New airliner orders 'at suitable level' for demand
By Cao Desheng (China Daily)
Updated: 2006-02-15 06:33
A senior civil aviation official yesterday refuted suggestions that China's
rapid introduction of airliners might outgrow demand, saying that buying around
100 a year over the next five years is "suitable."
"China will purchase more than 100 aircraft each year in the 11th Five-Year
Plan period (2006-10)," said Gao Hongfeng, vice-director of the General
Administration of Civil Aviation of China (CAAC), at a State Council Information
Office press conference in Beijing.
Ordering airliners is a long-term procedure with some deliveries taking place
over 10 years, Gao said. "Market needs and flight safety are taken into
account," he said.
With an aviation market that is growing second only to the United States,
China contracted to buy 442 airliners last year from US aviation giant Boeing
and European aircraft manufacturer Airbus with deliveries spread out over
However, some experts have criticized the size of the order, saying China
does not need that many.
Qiu Lianzhong, a senior expert at a Beijing-based civil aviation research
centre, said the rapid expansion of China's air fleet might entail some risks.
"The surging cost of fuel and pilot training leave little room for profits,"
Qiu said. "Airline companies will have to raise airfares or collect fuel
surcharges to make more profit, which might discourage people from flying."
On the other hand, if air fleets keep expanding, vicious competition will be
unavoidable, leading to rapid growth of the industry but with little profit or
The robust market has propelled airline companies such as Air China, China
Southern Airlines and China Eastern Airlines to expand their fleets. According
to CAAC statistics, about 138 million people flew on the Chinese mainland in
2005, up 105 per cent from 2000.
The number is expected to double again by 2010 both in passenger and cargo
traffic, Gao said.
However, he said: "We will face a lot of challenges in training pilots,
especially captains, for these airplanes."
At the end of last year, the Chinese mainland had 863 airplanes, but the
number of pilots was only around 11,000, which insiders say is far fewer than
the industry norm.
Already, State-owned Air China plans to recruit its first foreign pilots to
cope with staff shortages.
Gao said the CAAC, as the industry regulator, set strict requirements on
airline companies in pilot training, maintenance and managerial staff to ensure
"If the expansion of the fleet conflicts with flight safety, we must put
safety first," he said.
There are more than 5,000 flights every day and more than 11,000 takeoffs and
landings. Therefore, the pressure on safety is very high, the vice-director
(China Daily 02/15/2006 page2)