China plans aviation expansion

Beijing, February 15:

China’s aviation industry will buy 100 new jetliners and recruit 1,000 pilots every year for the next five years, regulators annou-nced yesterday in a plan to more than double air traffic.

The target will make China second only to the US in terms of flights and is likely to alarm environmentalists and air safety campaigners even as it delights Boeing and Airbus executives. It is estimated that air traffic is already responsible for 10 per cent of global warming because jet emissions linger.

Senior officials from the General Administration of Civil Aviation of China (GACAC) admitted the expansion plan would put a strain on operators.

“We have felt that we are walking on thin ice in safety management,” said Gao Hongfeng, GACAC deputy director in announcing the new plans, “There are over 5,000 flights every day and more than 11,000 takeoffs and landings in airports, therefore the pressure on safety is very high.”

China is already the fastest growing aviation market in the world. According to the government, air traffic has doubled in the past five years. Since 2000, passenger numbers have risen by 105 per cent to 138 million a year and the combined fleet of the country’s air companies rose to 863 planes from 527.

Dozens of cities boast new airports, such as the 2 billion pounds Guangzhou mega-terminal that opened last year as the first part of a two-stage plan to double capacity to 27 million passengers by 2009. Shanghai has even bigger plans. A second runway opened last year at its futuristic Pudong airport.

The facility, which can handle 35 million passengers a year, is in the midst of an expansion plan to quadruple the number of terminals and handle 80 million.

The biggest is the Beijing Capital International Airport Terminal 3, designed by British architect Norman Foster. The huge building site, home to 10,000 workers, is the first thing

that most visitors to the capital see when they touch down.

Due for completion in time for the 2008 Olympics, its operators say it will cover 420,000 square metres, overtaking Hong Kong and Heathrow as the biggest airport building in the world.

To the concern of safety officials, filling airports with passengers is a lot easier than filling cockpits with qualified pilots. At 0.42 accidents per 1m flight miles, China’s safety record is better than the average, but officials warn that the lack of pilots could pose new risks. China has 11,000 registered pilots.

With the growth in traffic it is estimated that it will need 1,000 more every year, but the Civil Aviation Flight University of China, the main training school, trains only 600.

Airline companies are increasingly looking overseas. Yesterday, Air China announced plans to recruit its first foreign pilots.