Russian airlines haven’t always enjoyed the best reputation. But in professional circles Russian pilots are talked about as some of the best aviators in the business. After all, they regularly land aircraft in sub-zero temperatures, low visibility and driving snow.
So perhaps it was not all that surprising that when a thick blanket of fog settled above Beijing in the early hours of November 5 the pilot of the Aeroflot flight from Moscow decided zero visibility was no bar to landing.
While most other flights were redirected to airports in Hebei, Inner Mongolia, Tianjin and Shanghai, Aeroflot’s jet actually arrived in Beijing 19 minutes ahead of schedule.
The media were both impressed and appalled. “All Beijing flights cancelled but Aeroflot arrives on time!” applauded China Youth Daily.
“It’s the Russians again!” said the Global Times, referring to a similar incident in 2014 when thick fog led air traffic control to close the airport to arriving aircraft. That time, instead of rerouting to another airport as initially instructed, the Aeroflot pilot circled over Inner Mongolia for a couple of hours before bringing the plane back to Beijing.
In the wake of the most recent landing exploit the Russians took to social media to express pride in their national carrier. “As long as there is a runway, we can land,” celebrated one.
But some Chinese netizens questioned why the Russians were given permission to touch down when others were diverted elsewhere. “Who took the decision to allow this plane to land?” asked one. “Are the rules not the same for everybody?”
Questions were also being asked this week about the training programme for the J-10 fighter jet after Yu Xu – one of only four women qualified to fly the plane – was killed during a routine exercise last Saturday.
The J-10 was launched in 1998 and it is the Chinese military’s most widely-used fighter. The crash which killed Yu was one of four made public over the last two years.
China’s state news agency Xinhua lamented that such sacrifices were inevitable as the Chinese military continues to modernise. “Her death represents the great ambition and desire of a country and an army to conquer the sky,” it said.
Yu was a member of the air force’s acrobatics team and she was killed during training for a routine. After she ejected from her aircraft, the wing of another plane hit her, according to a report from China Daily.
Some netizens questioned whether women should be carrying out such dangerous work, saying that if she had chosen a more conventional career she would have lived longer.
But Wang Ya’nan, an aviation expert interviewed by the Global Times, preferred to salute her as a hero.
“China is a pioneer in training female aerobatic pilots. When the programme started, there was no foreign experience to borrow from or statistics to rely on from other countries. From this perspective, Yu and other female aerobatic pilots have taken greater risks, which deserve more of our respect,” he told the newspaper.
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