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China's Extreme Smog Forces Pilots to Train for Blind Landings

An aircraft is barely visible through thick smog on the tarmac of Hongqiao airport in Shanghai as severe pollution blankets the city on Dec. 6
An aircraft is barely visible through thick smog on the tarmac of Hongqiao airport in Shanghai as severe pollution blankets the city on Dec. 6Photograph by Peter Parks/AFP via Getty Images

Take a flight in China, and there’s a decent chance your flight will be delayed. The nation’s notoriously congested airports are dealing this month with the onset of a particularly extreme bout of lung-choking pollution, which lowers visibility and contributes to airline troubles.

In response, Chinese authorities have mandated that pilots at domestic airlines who fly into the 10 most congested airports be qualified to land when visibility falls below 400 meters (1,300 feet), Bloomberg News reported today, citing the Civil Aviation Administration of China. Currently, domestic flights are diverted when visibility falls below 400 meters. Under the new rule, pilots will need to be rated to land airplanes using the precision auto-landing instruments on most Airbus and Boeing models. Those trickier airport approaches, using radio waves, are the same type that were discussed for bad weather when U.S. regulators decided recently to allow wireless devices in flight. Passengers must still power down their gadgets when the pilot says so.