China will start to impose tough penalties on people making false terrorist threats against airlines and airports after a stream of bogus calls grounded flights and piled pressure on an already strained air traffic control system, state media reported.
Flights and domestic airports have been disrupted by 80 fake threats this year, the official Xinhua news service said. Between May 15 and 18 alone, six bomb threats were reported, forcing 22 flights to turn back, land elsewhere or be delayed, a separate China Daily report noted.
The media reports come a day before China embarks on a week-long national holiday which will see transportation channels jammed with tourists and people returning home.
China's top court is planning to make false calls a criminal offense and offenders could be jailed for more than five years if their threat causes economic damage in excess of 500,000 RMB ($81,700). The sentence may be even longer if the damage is more severe.
Fake threats were sometimes made out of curiosity or for a joke, or even by irate boyfriends trying to prevent girlfriends from leaving town, media reports have said.
Chinese airlines are already struggling to handle increasing traffic in a timely manner given heavy restrictions on the usage of civilian airspace.
In June, only 18.3 percent of flights departing from Beijing left on time, while only 28.7 percent of flights leaving Shanghai made it on time, making them the two poorest performing major airports in the world according to FlightStats.com.
The new laws will also apply to threats made against trains, ferries and other public facilities, like shopping malls, the China Daily said. It also warned people against disseminating rumors about such threats via text messages or social media, saying they could be criminally charged.