DALLAS – A moment of emergency occurred this morning when debris from the Chinese rocket CZ-5B flew over Spanish territory in an out-of-control orbit.
Following the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) recommendations, the Spanish ANSP ENAIRE established a closure of the airspace surrounding the path of the rocket within a radius of 100 km.
This incident led to around 90 minutes of dozens of flight cancellations, deviations, and delays in arrivals and departures in Bilbao (BIO), Zaragoza (ZAZ), and Barcelona (BCN). ENAIRE would later announce that all services had resumed as normal since 11:00 UTC.
According to Spanish airport operator AENA, 300 flights out of the 5,484 scheduled to operate today in its 46 Spanish airports were delayed due to the air traffic shutdown.
The uncontrolled entrance of CZ-5B into the atmosphere was closely monitored at all times by several Spanish and European aviation safety organizations, including the European Space Agency (ESA) and EUROCONTROL.
Fortunately, the emergency ended without any further consequences, and the United States Space Command officially confirmed the fall of the Chinese rocket in the Pacific Ocean at 10:01 UTC.
A “Rate Zero” Incident
The overflight of CZ-5B threatened the safety of Northern Spanish aviation. As a result, local aviation authorities, with the help of EUROCONTROL, established a temporary “Rate Zero” in the area of the path of the Chinese rocket.
Rate Zero (RZ) is a common procedure in aviation that blocks all departures and arrivals at a certain airport due to operational and safety reasons. Also, this means that aircraft with RZ destinations are not allowed to depart from the origin airport if they haven’t yet, as it isn’t certain the flight will be cleared to land once it gets to the destination airport.
Even though this Rate Zero was activated due to an extraordinary situation, the most common incidents that force the closure of an airport include severe weather, volcanic eruptions, or terrorist attacks.
The closure of an airport has a tremendous impact on air operations, mostly for airlines that rely on the hub-and-spoke model, which concentrates arrivals and departures in short periods of time to attract connecting travelers.
If a Rate Zero is activated at a hub, this would mean that an entire arrival or departure bank of an airline may suffer heavy delays or flight cancellations.
Featured image: Bilbao Airport. Photo: Basotxerri, Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=47064551