Purported Chinese warships interfering with passenger planes

Australian airline Qantas issued standing orders to its pilots last week advising them that some of its fleet experienced interference on VHF stations from sources purporting to be the Chinese Military.

The Register has confirmed the reports.

The interference has been noticed in the western Pacific and South China Sea. Qantas has advised its crew to continue their assigned path and report interference to the controlling air traffic control authority.

The airline also has stated there have been no reported safety events.


Qantas operations order – Click to enlarge

Qantas’ warning follows a similar one from the International Federation of Air Line Pilots’ Associations (IFALPA) issued on March 2nd.

IFALPA said it “been made aware of some airlines and military aircraft being called over 121.50 or 123.45 by military warships in the Pacific region, notably South China Sea, Philippine Sea, East of Indian Ocean.” According to the org, some flights contacted by the warships were provided vectors to avoid the airspace.

But while interfering with VHF can be disruptive, what is more concerning is the IFALPA said it has “reason to believe there may be interferences to GNSS and RADALT as well.”

RADLT is aviation jargon for radar altimeter – an instrument that tells pilots how far they are above ground. So they can avoid hitting it. GNSS is the Global Navigation Satellite System.

GNSS Jamming navigation systems or radar altimeters can greatly disorientate a pilot or worse.

Of course, there is no telling if China is merely testing out its capabilities, performing these actions as a show of power, or has a deeper motive.

IFALPA recommended pilots who experience interference do not respond to warships, notify dispatchers and relevant air traffic control, and complete necessary reports.

China has asserted more control over Asia Pacific waters. Outgoing Micronesian president David Panuelo recently accused Beijing of sending warnings to stay away from its ships when entered his country’s territory. In an explosive letter, Panuelo said China also attempted to take control of the nation’s submarine cables and telecoms infrastructure.

Source: Purported Chinese warships interfering with passenger planes • The Register

Robin Edgar

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