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Airlines eyes northwest, Central Asia
By Fu Jing (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-08-28 00:59

Hainan Airlines Co, China's fourth largest carrier, Friday set up a branch airline company in the capital of Northwest China's Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region.

Zhao Zhongying, executive president of Hainan Airlines, told China Daily that the new branch aimed to start regional routes in the spacious autonomous region and also international flights to Central Asian countries.

Yang Guoqing, vice-minister of the General Administration of Civil Aviation of China, said the airline's expansion was a major step of the country's initiative in forming a bridge in the air among countries in East and Central Asia and those in Europe.

Yang based the proposal on the facts that along the China section of the overland linkage between Asia and Europe, there are 44 airports and nine of them allow international flights.

The "bridge in the air" plan was among the hottest topics at the two-day international forum on promoting economic ties among regions along the route, also named the "New Silk Road (NSR)."

Another was brought by Khalid Malik, United Nations Resident Co-ordinator in China, who insisted that developing tourism resources along the route would be helpful in alleviating poverty in the regions.

The country's first shareholding airline company, Hainan Airlines has already launched five new routes from Urumqi to other cities in Xinjiang.

"Our near goal is to realize direct flights among the major cities in the autonomous region," said Zhao Yongying.

Zhao said his company, No 1 among domestic airlines in terms of regional aviation, will invest more capital to tap the massive potential of regional aviation in China.

"Especially in the western region, developing regional flights is our priority," said Zhao.

He said air travel will be driven by the country's continuing robust growth in gross domestic product and personal income.

It will also be driven by deregulation of ticket prices, privatization of airlines, less restrictive bilateral air services agreements with other countries, and the increasing number of visas being issued to outbound tourists.

"At the same time, we are already prepared for flights to Central Asian countries," said Zhao.

But civil aviation authorities say the blueprint for Chinese airlines -- including Zhao's -- is still on the table.

"There are still some barriers to their flights in Central Asian countries," said Liu Fang, director with the General Administration of Civil Aviation of China.

She said the Central Asian countries showed less willingness to allow Chinese airlines to fly in their countries and barriers in customers and taxation still remained.

"However, China is more open-minded," said Liu, adding that China did not charge tax if Central Asian countries exported goods through cargo flights.

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