Civil Aviation is Taking Off

The country's civil aviation industry will continue to develop robustly, Sha Hongjiang, deputy director of the planning and development department under the General Administration of Civil Aviation, said yesterday.

"The industry should grow at about 14 percent a year between now and 2010," he said.

Sha was addressing aviation business leaders from around the world at a two-day forum, organized by the China Air Transport Association and China Civil Airports Association, which started yesterday.

The aviation industry is set for its fastest rate of growth ever, Sha said.

This is due in part to three upcoming events: The Beijing Olympics next year, and the World Expo in Shanghai and Asian Games in Guangzhou, both in 2010.

The annual passenger transport capacity will double to 270 million by 2010, he said. The number of airports will increase to 186 by 2010 from the current 147.

Sha said private and foreign funding was being encouraged in the air cargo transportation sector, especially in the central and western parts of China.

The aviation industry was becoming more flexible and considering using low-altitude airspace, below 3,000 m, Sha said.

"We have a safe flight record of 9 million hours," Sha said.

Challenges remain, however, including insufficient infrastructure, relatively poor airport management and strict control of airspace.

Compared with other countries, China relies heavily on just four major airlines, Air China, Southern, Eastern and Hainan Airlines.

The number of airports in the United States is almost five times that of China.

Kirk Shaffer, associate administrator for airports at the US-based Federal Aviation Administration hopes to have more exchanges with his Chinese counterpart.

"We're looking forward to more cooperation the more sharing of ideas between our two countries the better off we'll be," he said.

Currently, the United States is working on the next generation of air transportation systems as the current system is "not performing adequately", Shaffer said.