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Aviation opening wider to EU countries
By Cao Desheng (China Daily)
Updated: 2004-12-27 08:51

China has more aviation partners in Europe than ever before.

While still negotiating with the Europe Union (EU), seven individual countries have signed memorandums of understanding (MOU) on air transport deals with China this year, a press official from the General Administration of Civil Aviation of China (CAAC) told China Daily.

Germany, Great Britain, Russia, Spain, Norway, Denmark and Sweden, all hope to enlarge their share in China's vast aviation market, said an official speaking on condition of anonymity.

The opening-up of the civil aviation market is irreversible considering the large demand from the population and flow of material on a global scale, said Wang Ronghua, director of CAAC's Department of International Co-operation.

"Despite close contact with the EU, we still have a long way to go before signing a formal China-EU aviation transport agreement because some articles that the EU defined are not acceptable," Wang said.

While negotiating with the EU, China has inked some deals with individual member countries, he added.

On November 26, China signed an MOU with Spain which allows airlines from the two countries to operate flights without being designated.

Each side can have five destinations at most and the number of weekly flights between the two countries can add up to 21, according to the new pact.

Three Spanish airlines including Air Europa and Air Plus Comet have shown interest in the new routes, saying they plan to open flights early next year or from 2006, Wang said.

Just three months before, talks between China and Germany bore fruit.

The CAAC remains tight-lipped over the details of that deal, but an official from the administration described it as a "more open aviation pact."

It will give passenger and cargo carriers from both sides greater freedom to fly to each other's market, he said on the condition of not being named.

Insiders say the signings are a clear indication that China will further open its aviation market to Europe following a landmark pact with the United States on air transport services in July.

The agreement increases by nearly five-fold the number of weekly flights between the two countries - from the current limit of 54 weekly round trip flights to 249 in the coming six years.

China will open its sky step by step to the outside world, but criticism in the media of "excessive opening" are groundless, Wang stressed.

"Undoubtedly, the opening-up of aviation market will put pressure on domestic airlines, but it also gives them stimulus to step up their growth," he said.

Domestic carriers should improve their ability to compete with their international rivals by consolidating their resources, intensifying training and expanding air fleet, Wang said.

The current aviation co-operation frameworks between China and the European countries were formulated before 1998.

In 2002, some European countries began to promote dialogue with China for aviation partnership.

"The robust economic and trade relations prompted by the mutual visit of leaders from China and European countries this year have given momentum to the industry co-operation," Wang said.

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