Within two days, two Chinese airlines were forced to abandon their flights after receiving messages threatening the safety of passengers on board.
Last Wednesday, after taking off at 1.30pm at the Beijing Capital International Airport, the New York-bound flight CA981 operated by Air China returned to the airport at 8.25pm.
Air China said on its microblog that it received information of the threat during the flight and decided to recall the aircraft, which carried more than 300 passengers, back to the Chinese capital.
However, the airline did not give details of the threat.
A Beijing airport police spokesman told China Daily that the information came from the United States but it could have been forged and released from China.
The airport authorities said all passengers on board the plane, their hand-carry and checked-in luggage and the cargo were re-screened to ensure the passengers’ safety.
The police also searched the plane’s passenger and cargo cabins but found nothing suspicious as claimed in the message.
“Flight safety is too important. We would not take any risk,” Air China North America deputy general manager Yang Rui was quoted by the daily as saying.
He said the airline later changed the plane and cabin crew and the flight was re-scheduled and departed at about 12.30am last Thursday.
“Some passengers opted to cancel their trip, but most of them boarded the flight and continued with their trip to New York,” he said.
A passenger on board the plane who works for the Chinese Science and Technology Ministry wrote on his microblog that the incident was dealt with smoothly by the airline.
“The airport and police did a great job. All passengers cooperated and hardly caused any trouble. We are supportive of an investigation,” said Wang Qiang.
He said he thought something went wrong when the on-board electronic flight map showed that the aircraft was heading back to Beijing.
However, he was informed by the flight attendants that it was a map display error. Air China later explained that the crew members did not reveal the real reason to avoid unnecessary panic.
Air China also denied speculations on social media websites that the flight flew back because a corrupt official who was trying to flee the country was among the passengers on the plane.
On Thursday, a similar incident happened to Shenzhen Airlines. The company based in southern China diverted its flight ZH9706 to the Wuhan Tianhe International Airport in Hubei province’s Wuhan city.
The plane which carried 80 passengers and crew members landed at the airport at 11.22pm. The flight was supposed to fly from Xiangyang city in Hubei to Shenzhen.
The Wuhan airport authority said on its website that the passengers stayed overnight at Wuhan and took another flight B6196, which was specially sent to the airport, to get to Shenzhen the next morning.
The authority said airport police and staff screened the passengers and carried out thorough checks twice but found no explosives or haphazard products.
Local media reported that the airport police was investigating into a threatening call made by a person soon after the affected flight took off.
On Saturday, China News Services quoted sources from the Xiangyang public security bureau as saying that the police arrested a 29-year-old man in Dongguan in Guangdong province.
Initial investigations showed that the man was suspected for calling Shenzhen Airlines and threatening to bomb the plane.
Rampant bomb threats have crippled the Chinese civil aviation industry in recent months.
Early last month, an Air China flight from Beijing to Nanchang returned to the capital after a passenger claimed that there was a bomb on board the plane. But, it turned out to be untrue.
In April, a 19-year-old teenager contacted the Shanghai Pudong International Airport claiming that flight CA406 from Shanghai to Chengdu was installed with a bomb.
He ordered the airport authority to remit one million yuan (RM480,000) into his bank account or he would blow the plane apart. He was later detained for causing false alarm and spreading rumours.