WASHINGTON (AFP) — China has to loosen overwhelming military control of its airspace to cater to explosive civil aviation growth, a senior US aviation official said Monday.
The military at present controls 80 percent of the vast country's airspace and the United States has been prodding Beijing to open it up in a bid to ease air traffic congestion.
"We are encouraged by the fact that several temporary routes previously under military control (have made way for) civil use to ease congestion," said Dorothy Reimold, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) acting assistant administrator for international aviation.
"We certainly remain hopeful that this dialogue will remain ongoing and that there will be shifts to accommodate the civil aviation growth that has been forecast," she told a forum of the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.
Reimold said the military "currently controls approximately 80 percent of China's airspace" at a time when the eastern portion of the country's airspace was "near saturation in terms of its capacity."
They include routes between the busy aviations hubs of Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou.
As China places emphasis on expanding access to the western portion of the country through increased aviation operations, capacity constraints along with additional routes will become evident over time, she said.
"Airspace is a finite resource and China's growth will quickly exceed current capacity even with the addition of new operation procedures and new technologies."
Chinese airlines are forecast to purchase more than 2,600 commercial aircraft over the next 20 years, Reimold said.
Similarly, she said, more airspace would be necessary to accommodate the expected growth in the general aviation sector, which includes private jets and charter planes.
Some experts, Reimold said, had projected that the general aviation fleet in China could expand from just over 700 aircraft today to as many as 10,000 by the year 2020.
The FAA has been working closely with the Chinese government in recent years in an effort to improve the safety and capacity of the aviation system as a whole with particular emphasis for the upcoming Olympics, she said.
The Civil Aviation Administration of China, which oversees civil aviation in mainland China, told the FAA that they anticipated a 30 percent increase in air traffic to the Beijing airport during the Olympic Games, Reimold said.
The China-US aviation market is also growing at a double digit rate.
To meet this demand, the two countries recently signed a new air services agreement that authorizes their air carriers to operate 46 flights a day -- 23 each -- by 2012, Reimold said.
"The FAA will be working with Chinese authorities to establish systems to safely manage this growth," she said.
China's safety record, she pointed out, had also improved over the past years with the country enjoying "one of the lowest accident rates in the world," she said.
There have been no reported aviation fatalities since November 2004, when a China Eastern Airlines commuter plane crashed into a frozen lake in northern China, killing 55 people, she said.
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