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Volume 14,Issue 3 Autumn 2012

China must overcome aviation challenges


ICAO, IATA list safety, environment as priority concerns.  The secretary general of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) declared China’s air transport industry as the “second largest in the world” while International Air Transport Association’s director general and CEO said it is the “future global leader for air transport.” During the China Civil Aviation Development Forum held in Beijing on May 9, ICAO’s Dr. Taieb Cherif and IATA’s Giovanni Bisignani agreed that China’s aviation sector is an important player in the world today. But Cherif and Bisignani also warned that this growth is coupled with major challenges that China must overcome in order to build an efficient air transport system. IATA pointed out five issues that China faces: efficient air traffic management, environmental sustainability, cost-efficient airport infrastructure, internal cost control and commercial freedoms. These are similar to the problems that Cherif has enumerated: aviation safety, aviation security, environmental protection and liberalization. “China is at a critical moment that is also a great opportunity. And to build a more successful future, China has to avoid the mistakes made in other parts of the world,” says Bisignani. China is laying the foundation for what it calls the next generation of air transport system. From the air to the ground, China has been busy in the last five years trying to build more airports, open air routes, and use different technologies to compensate for its limited civilian airspace. Last year, China’s airports handled 332 million passengers, further straining their capacity. Safety Bisignani says that in the 1990s, China’s safety record in aviation was “not good.” Based on data, China’s fatal accident rate from 1996 to 2000 was 0.65 per million flight hours. This dropped more than half to just a 0.29 accident rate per million flight hours from 2001 to 2005. Cherif emphasized that, “our first priority, as always, must be safety.” According to ICAO, the worldwide accident rate last year was 0.0193 fatalities per 100 million passenger-kilometers, just barely higher than the 2005 rate of 0.0191. The total number of passenger fatalities last year was 755 in 12 aircraft accidents, compared to 712 in 17 accidents in 2005. IATA’s CEO says China’s safety record today “is among the best in the world,” emphasizing that there were no aviation accidents in China last year. But ICAO cautions that countries should remain vigilant given the “growth in traffic and increasing complexity of air operations” today. ICAO is pushing for the Global Aviation Safety Plan, a blueprint and a performance-based approach to safety. The GASP aims to reduce the number of accidents and fatalities worldwide and achieve a high decrease in accident rates. A key element is the ICAO Universal Safety Oversight Audit Program, which has already improved aviation safety around the world. Cherif says, “China has taken good note of the intent behind these initiatives and has been proactive in reforming its safety system.” He commended China for its achievements. Among these are: steady progress in the implementation of recommendations made during the safety oversight audit carried out in 1999 and followed up in 2001; adoption of many Safety Management Systems principles within its aviation system; fostering of a safety culture whereby organizations and companies accept responsibility for safety; a shift to a proactive safety management style instead of reliance entirely on post-accident action; promotion of compliance with international safety standards; placing a new emphasis on training programs; and encouragement of greater utilization of technological solutions. Cherif says China is aiming to achieve a reduced accident rate from 2006 to 2010 of less than 0.3 hull losses for every million hours of flight time. Aviation security Cherif says the terrorist plot in the United Kingdom last year which aimed to blow up planes using liquids as explosives showed that the air transport system is vulnerable. He says, “What is at stake is lives, those of passengers and crews and those of people on the ground.” Poorly enforced security measures can erode public confidence in air travel and bring considerable losses to airlines and airports, he adds. In the implementation of these security measures, Cherif says governments around the world must fulfill the need to maintain anti-terrorist vigilance without causing tremendous inconvenience for passengers. He says ICAO will issue a new list of items that may not be brought on board aircraft in June. Environment Bisignani and Cherif say that the air transport industry must ensure environment protection by reducing greenhouse gas emissions. “Climate change is among the biggest issues facing aviation today,” says Bisignani. Cherif says greenhouse gas emissions from aircraft are affecting local air quality and global climate change even though aircraft today are 70 percent more energy-efficient. “The reason, of course, is the continued growth in traffic,” he says. Bisignani advises Chinese authorities to use technology to improve the fuel efficiency of aircraft. He says China’s average aircraft age is 6.3 years, which gives it an advantage. He also says China should implement efficient air traffic management. “Every minute of flight costs US$120 and emits 160 kg of CO2,” Bisignani says. He adds that China should avoid taxes and charges that limit airlines from investing in new technologies. Last February, ICAO held a meeting on environmental protection where recommendations were submitted regarding aircraft engine emissions. To reduce air emissions, three approaches were recommended: action at the source, operational measures to reduce emissions and market-based measures. “ICAO is committed . . . to bringing together all stakeholders—States, the industry and service providers—to refine and implement measures that can cumulatively minimize the impact of aviation on the environment and contribute to a healthier planet for all,” says Cherif. Liberalization The United States has been urging China to agree to an open skies agreement that will give airlines of both countries unlimited access. Whether China agrees or not is still under negotiation as representatives from both countries are committed to holding further talks to lay down the parameters of the agreement. Cherif says, “Liberalization is the cornerstone upon which to build the future growth of the air transport industry.” He says that today there are more than 120 open skies agreements between countries. Bisignani ties liberalization to China’s growing economy. He commends CAAC Minister Yang Yuanyuan for implementing progressive liberalization. Examples are the opening of Hainan as a free port for aviation and liberalization with ASEAN countries, Japan, Korea and the US. He further urges China to open its aviation market, but with less government supervision. He says that by 2010, intra-Asia travel will be the largest single aviation market in the world, with China at the center. “So there is an enormous leadership opportunity to shape policy in a very meaningful way. Nobody is asking to change the system overnight, but it is the role of government to anticipate and lead change,” says Bisignani. Cherif cites the recent open skies agreement between the US and European Union which “will have a significant impact on the global liberalization process.” “In short, the aim is to create an environment in which international air transport may develop and flourish in a stable, efficient and economical manner without compromising safety and security,” he says. Bisignani also says China should have a cost-efficient infrastructure and efficient air traffic management. He says China’s airspace design is inefficient, which costs airlines lots of money. He urges China to expand its limited number of entry points to Chinese airspace. “Our goal is to use global standards to make Chinese airspace among the most effective in the world—to meet demand safely and efficiently,” he adds. Bisignani is optimistic that China can achieve its goals in aviation based on its achievements in the last 30 years. “China has an important role in the industry today. And we are working together to build en even more successful future,” he says.

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