Airspace reopens after uncontrolled Chinese rocket forces hour-long closure

Flights delayed and others rerouted as Catalan airports closed on Friday morning

A message regarding the CZ-5B Chinese rocket informs passengers at Barcelona airport on November 4, 2022
A message regarding the CZ-5B Chinese rocket informs passengers at Barcelona airport on November 4, 2022 / Àlex Recolons
Catalan News

Catalan News | @catalannews | Barcelona

November 4, 2022 09:26 AM

November 4, 2022 04:58 PM

The re-entry into Earth's atmosphere of an uncontrolled Chinese rocket has forced to declare a 'rate zero' for the vast majority of the Iberian peninsula, and therefore Catalonia, on Friday morning. 

The CZ-5B spacecraft crossed Spanish airspace, limiting all flights from 9:38 am to 10:18 am in Catalonia and other regions, according to the Catalan emergency services and Controladores Aereos (Spanish air traffic controllers).

Catalan airports in Barcelona, Reus, and Girona, as well as the one in Ibiza, had to all close their airspace prompting dozens of flights to be delayed or rerouted.

Screenshot from a live map of Catalonia's airspace on November 4, 2022 at 9:53 am
Screenshot from a live map of Catalonia's airspace on November 4, 2022 at 9:53 am / Flightradar24

Authorities expected the consequences to last the whole day, as in some cases, people had to wait up to an hour for their flight to depart.

CZ-5B is the core stage of the rocket used by Chinese authorities to launch Mengtian on October 31, which is the third module of the Chinese modular space station. 

According to the EU Space Surveillance and Tracking (EU SST) Operations Centres, the 20 tonnes rocket had to overfly twice the Iberian peninsula and the re-entry point was considered to be at an altitude of 80 km.

The rocket finally entered the Earth's atmosphere at 11:01 am over the south-central Pacific Ocean, as confirmed by the United States of America Space Command in a tweet

'Like in the movies', passengers say

Hundreds of passengers were affected by the uncontrolled Chinese rocket as their flights were delayed or, rerouted to other airports. In some cases, travelers did not know anything about it until they were already taxiing to the runway.

"Cabin crew told us there was a rocket," Antònia from Majorca who was already seated in the plane when the announcement was made, said to the Catalan News Agency (ACN) once landed in the Catalan capital. When she heard the excuse it felt "like in the movies," but it is "better to wait than for something to fall," she added.

"When we were seated in the airplane, the pilot informed us that airspace was closed because of the Chinese rocket crossing the Iberian peninsula," Lluís Miquel, who was also flying from the Balearic Islands and had to wait for 1:30h said. "It felt like a joke as it was really weird," he explained before adding that he was "hailing a cab and quickly going to work."

"People waited calmly after joking about the odd situation, but everything went well," Lluís Miquel, a passenger, said

According to AENA (Spanish Airport Authority), there were 157 flights affected in Barcelona because of the rocket. However, only 66 of these flights saw a delay of more than 15 minutes. In Girona airport, two London-Standsted flights were the only ones affected and had to wait for over 1:30 h, while in Reus, there were no registered incidents.

Vueling cabin crew strike cancels 29 flights

Leaving airspace closures aside, Barcelona airport was already facing some difficulties on Friday as the Vueling cabin crew is on strike for the upcoming weeks until January 31.

As a preventive measure, the airline already canceled 29 flights for Friday on Thursday, as its workers ask for a salary increase of 13.4%.

Overall, cancellations in the Catalan capital represent 46% of the ones seen in Spain.

Workers have been called to strike Fridays, Sundays, and Mondays until the end of January, as well as December 6, 8, 24, and 31, and January 5.