An Air New Zealand flight from Auckland to Shanghai had to turn back midway on Sunday morning after the aircraft was found to be lacking the required permission to land in China's mainland.
The Boeing 787-9, operating as Flight NZ289, took off from Auckland, New Zealand, around midnight on Saturday local time but turned back after flying for about 4.5 hours. The flight was scheduled to land at Pudong International Airport at 7:05am Beijing time.
In a short message sent to passengers later, the airline said the "aircraft operating the flight did not have regulatory approval to land in Chinese mainland and was required to return to Auckland."
The B787-9, the bigger version of the Dreamliner, with the registration ZK-NZQ, has been flying with the airline for five months, but has never landed in the Chinese mainland, according to its flying records.
According to China's civil aviation regulation, foreign carriers are required to submit a list of the type, nationality and registration mark of aircraft scheduled to land in Chinese mainland to the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) before operating the flight.
"Midway through our flight from Auckland to Shanghai, the pilot informs us that Chinese authorities had not given this plane permission to land, so we needed to turn around," Eric Hundman, an assistant professor at New York University Shanghai, said on his Twitter account.
He described the experience as "a new level of China Bad," which caused heated debate on the social network.
"Obviously Air New Zealand forgot to get approval for this plane in advance... You can blame Air New Zealand, but this mistake has nothing to do with 'China Bad'," a netizen replied.
Hundman later told Shanghai Daily that he did not mean to blame China since it was still unclear who is at fault. "I mean that I had a frustrating, highly unusual experience while en route to China," he added.
An official with CAAC said the administration has begun an investigation into the incident.
Air New Zealand also said they are investigating and an official explanation will be released later on Sunday.
All the passengers have been accommodated and another flight is to be arranged on Sunday night to send the passengers to Shanghai.
"Air New Zealand wishes to sincerely apologize for the return and subsequent retiming of your flight NZ289," the carrier said in the short message to its passengers.
The rearranged flight is scheduled to take off at 11pm New Zealand time on Sunday and land at Pudong airport at 6am local time Monday.