Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Air Disasters Prompt China to Look Abroad for Assistance

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

Air Disasters Prompt China to Look Abroad for Assistance

Article excerpt

CHINA is looking for foreign help to upgrade its beleaguered aviation industry.

The crash of a Russian-built airliner and the third hijacking to Taiwan this year has heightened the crisis that has made China's air corridors the world's riskiest. All 160 people died when a China Northwest Airlines plane crashed in Xian June 6 - the nation's worst air disaster. Also that day, a China Southern Airlines jet carrying 139 people was hijacked on a domestic flight.

These events came two days after the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) said it would step up efforts to improve air safety. In 1993, China had its worst year ever, with five crashes and eight hijackings; this year brought many near misses.

For the first time after an air crash, officials called in a Russian crew and a United States Federal Aviation Administration team to help with the investigation into a cause.

Chinese and Western analysts predict the disasters could intensify government efforts to lure foreign carriers to invest in Chinese air travel and trigger a new shake-up among aviation officials named only last year.

Air safety and efficiency have suffered as growth of the industry outpaces availability of experienced crews and up-to-date planes. Growth has been spurred by decentralization, which created more than 30 semi-independent carriers in 1988, and by a fast-track economy that has attracted foreign investment and revived tourism; it has also led many Chinese to abandon trains for planes.

After two record-breaking years, volume keeps spiraling. In the first five months of this year, Chinese airlines carried 15.3 million passengers and 314,000 tons of cargo, both up more than 19 percent. For the year, CAAC predicts that carriers will transport 13 percent more people and cargo than in 1993.

European aircraft maker Airbus Industrie projects that domestic passenger and cargo demand will grow more than 7 percent yearly in the next 20 years. To deal with the growth, China is trying to form new airlines, repair airports and build new ones, update traffic control and navigational facilities, train pilots and staff, and upgrade service. …

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