China’s Aviation Agency Assailed on Safety


Lax safety procedures and violations of operating rules were responsible for a string of fatal aircraft accidents last year, official Chinese newspapers reported Thursday.

Two state-controlled newspapers quoted high officials using extraordinarily blunt language to criticize the record of the Civil Aviation Administration of China, which has overall responsibility for the country’s airlines.

The agency has long had a notorious reputation among foreigners familiar with China for its bad service and poor aircraft maintenance, but never before has it been attacked so harshly in the official Chinese press.

During the second half of 1992, five crashes killed 310 people in China. That was slightly more than one-fifth of the world’s civilian air crash fatalities for the year, although air travel in China is only a small fraction of the world total.


The agency’s “management is too lax. It’s not strict enough. This really terrifies people!” Vice Premier Zhu Rongji said last year in remarks quoted Thursday by China Youth News. “If we don’t tighten up and deal with this sincerely, if we tolerate these persons and these events, it will be a crime against the people.”

Zhu made his comments, the newspaper reported, after a Russian-built passenger jet crashed in Nanjing on July 31, killing 107 people.

A Boeing 737 passenger jet on a domestic flight from Canton crashed Nov. 24 near the scenic tourist city of Guilin, killing all 141 people on board in the worst recorded air disaster in China’s history.

There were also two helicopter crashes and a chartered plane crash during the second half of last year that killed a total of 62 people.

The newspaper China Daily reported Thursday that “slack safety controls and a violation of operational rules were blamed for these accidents.”

“It is imperative that we draw a lesson from these air crashes, which exposed hidden dangers and problems in our work,” Jiang Zhuping, the aviation agency’s director general, said at a national meeting on flight safety, the China Daily reported.

“A few (agency) airlines, faced with a new boom in air travel, hurriedly expanded, letting their pilots fly overtime to cope with a 30% growth rate in passenger volume last year,” China Daily said. “But all this was done at the cost of professional standards, aircraft maintenance and flight control.”

China Youth News reported that a team of aviation agency experts had recently identified “six big problems” faced by China’s airlines: lax management, declining quality of crews, declining maintenance, poor air traffic control, lack of strict safety standards and too rapid expansion of airline companies.

Thursday’s expose of the aviation agency’s problems was not the first time that Chinese airline officials and workers have been told to mend their ways. In late 1991, well before last year’s string of fatal crashes, Communist Party General Secretary Jiang Zemin demanded improvements in airline management, China Youth News said. “If we go on this way,” Jiang complained, “things will be hopeless.”