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China expects air passengers to double by 2010
Updated: 2006-02-14 15:16

The number of air passengers in China will double by 2010, straining the country's ability to train enough qualified pilots to meet demand and pushing the limits of available airspace, a top aviation official said Tuesday.

About 138 million people flew in China in 2005, up 105 percent from 2000, said Gao Jiafeng, vice minister of the General Administration of Civil Aviation of China, known by the acronym CAAC.

Gao said the country's aviation industry will see total passenger traffic -- as well as air and cargo traffic -- double again by 2010.

"Every year during the next five years we will introduce over 100 planes, meaning we will need over 1,000 pilots," Gao said. "We will be able to basically meet this requirement ... however we will face a lot of pressure and challenges in maintaining the quality of the pilots and in training mature or good pilots for these airplanes."

Already, state-owned Air China, Beijing's flag carrier, plans to recruit its first foreign pilots to cope with staff shortages, media report said yesterday.

Gao said other challenges for the industry include limits on airspace, the expected high price of fuel, and the need to maintain high overall safety levels in the face of rapid growth.

"Particularly the shortage of flight personnel and the shortage of usable airspace are two big bottlenecks restricting the development of civil aviation in China," Gao said.

Air China plans to add 20 to 30 aircraft to its fleet this year, but the final number will depend on whether it can find crews to fly them, the report said.

"Currently, we are short of at least 40 captains, so we will try to recruit foreign pilots," Li Huxiao, a senior Air China staff member, was quoted as saying.

Air China is one of China's three biggest airlines, along with China Southern Airlines and China Eastern Airlines.

Smaller, private Chinese carriers already have begun recruiting foreign pilots.

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