China: Less Deadlier Aviation   





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China has made great advances in aircraft safety, U.S. officials say

BEIJING (AP) The United States' top aviation regulator praised China's "very real progress" in boosting aircraft safety and pledged closer cooperation with the country's booming aviation sector.

China has cut its accident rate in half and is tracing technical issues that could point to future problem areas, U.S. Federal Aviation Administration head Marion Blakey said this week.

"In terms of actually stepping up and fixing safety problems and investigating accidents, certainly there has been a lot of progress," Blakey told reporters. Her remarks followed a day of meetings Thursday with her Chinese counterpart.

Blakey's upbeat assessment came during a regional tour aimed at increasing safety cooperation with the FAA, which trains some technicians in Oklahoma. She is also hoping to encourage China and other Asian nations to adopt common standards as they move into satellite-based aircraft navigation and communication systems.

Blakey planned to visit a repair facility at Beijing airport later Friday, partly to access China's suitability for aircraft repair outsourcing work.

China took tough measures to increase safety following a spate of deadly crashes during the 1990s. Since 2000, there have been just two major crashes involving Chinese airliners, despite about 20% annual growth in air travel.

Progress has placed China in the first tier of the FAA's list of countries in terms of safety, Blakey said.

"It is very clear that they are really working hard to do this. We've seen very real progress on this," Blakey said.

China's civil aviation sector is now the world's fifth-largest and is expected to rank second to the United States by 2020. Industry estimates say passenger traffic will soar to 140 million people by 2010, up from 84.3 million in 2002.

On Thursday, Blakey signed an agreement on further cooperation with China's Civil Aviation Administration. The FAA has also asked the U.S. State Department to set up negotiations with China on a more formal cooperation agreement.

Blakey attributed China's recent progress to the aviation administration's new leader, Yang Yuanyuan, a pilot who is certified to fly almost every model of Boeing jet.

"He knows aviation from the standpoint of the operational aspects in a way that you sometimes have not had in the past. I think his leadership has made a great deal of difference," Blakey said.

She cited Yang's push to require the use of English in all conversations between pilots and ground control as called for under international standards. Blakey also said Yang had also laid out other clear goals for improving safety, but gave no details.

Augmenting contacts, the FAA recently established a permanent office in Beijing. The FAA carries out extensive training for Chinese safety technicians both in China and at an FAA facility in Oklahoma.

While there is certainly "more to be done," Blakey said, trends in China's safety regime are "in the right direction without a doubt."

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