China's airways go on the bleep

Delays due to bad weather are unavoidable, and even the perennial "technical problems" are forgivable, considering the age of some of China's aircraft. But when Shenzhen airport had to be closed for two hours the culprit was rather more down to earth - the perilous pager.

No self-respecting Shenzhenite ventures out of his or her home in the morning without a smart black pager strapped to his belt or in her handbag. But this plague of pagers is proving something of a problem for airport operations and a major hazard for pilots flying near this booming special economic zone bordering Hong Kong.

When Liu Jianhua, deputy director of Shenzhen airport's air traffic control station, came into work at 8.30am on 13 August, noise disturbance was already disrupting ground-to-air communications. By noon interference from pager transmissions in the area was so bad that pilots could not hear air traffic control instructions clearly.

The airport was forced to shut, incoming flights had to be diverted and 11 aircraft could not take off on schedule. The airport reopened two hours later, but the pager pestilence persisted. According to the Shenzhen Special Economic Zone Daily, one China Northern aircraft took off at 3.30pm and as it climbed into the sky air traffic control told it to "turn left". The pilots misheard the instruction, due to continuing interference by pagers, and instead turned right. Fortunately there was nothing in their flight path.

There were around 40 million pagers in China by the end of last year. Many people still do not have telephones at home and the pager is a cheap, convenient messaging system for business and leisure. In the boomtown of Shenzhen most pagers also provide an automatic update on prices on the volatile local stock exchange.

China's air traffic control towers have two operating frequencies but over the last two months both have been severely disrupted at Shenzhen. The problem is the forest of pager transmitters: more than 2,000, run by 67 companies, in the area. Many get into the lucrative business without a proper licence and use radio frequencies illegally.

Du Jian, director of Shenzhen air traffic control, says radio signal disturbance is a problem for many airports around China. Difficulties arise inside as well as outside the cabin. Domestic flights start with a warning to passengers not to use pagers or that other talisman of success in China, the mobile phone, but frazzled stewardesses can often be seen frantically telling passengers to stop talking as the aircraft heads for the runway. The moment a plane lands the phones are switched on again to a chorus of ringing.

A decade of economic supergrowth in China has promoted a boom in modern telecommunications, leading to a prediction that the number of mobile phones in China will triple to 30 million by 2000. Pagers, being much cheaper, have spread far more widely. In Shenzhen the official Radio Control Committee is cracking down: of the 954 pager transmitters it has inspected some 134 have been deemed of "inferior quality", 86 could not meet technological demands and 48 were illegal.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager (B2B) - Romford - £40,000 + car

£35000 - £40000 per annum + car and benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager...

Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000

£18000 - £20000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Helpdesk Analyst - Devon - £20,000 ...

Ashdown Group: Data Scientist - London - £50,000 + bonus

£35000 - £50000 per annum + generous bonus: Ashdown Group: Business Analytics ...

Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Development) - Kingston

£45000 - £50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Project Coordinator (Software Dev...

Day In a Page

General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

Typefaces still matter in the digital age

A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

Ronald McDonald the muse

A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
13 best picnic blankets

13 best picnic blankets

Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

On the margins

From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

Why patients must rely less on doctors

Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

Flesh in Venice

Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
11 best anti-ageing day creams

11 best anti-ageing day creams

Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

Juventus vs Real Madrid

Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants