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Monday, 15 April, 2002, 11:51 GMT 12:51 UK
Air China's record blotted
Journalists waiting outside Air China's office in Beijing
Air China had had a flawless safety record
The crash of an Air China passenger plane on a mountainside near Busan in South Korea brings the national air carrier's unblemished safety record to a tragic end.

An injured man is taken from the crash site by rescue workers
There were stories of heroic rescue efforts

Founded in 1988 and with its headquarters in Beijing, the airline is the largest in China and one of three major international carriers based in the country.

It has more than 11,000 employees, according to its corporate website, including more than 1,300 pilots.

The airline has long been the preferred choice of Chinese leaders on state visits abroad and businessmen, French news agency AFP reports.

International plans

State media reports say Air China's reputation grew after 11 September as passengers preferred to fly with reputable airlines, and the airline, with its 2.72 million hours of safe flights logged, prospered.

Relatives of crash victims
The crash comes six weeks before South Korea co-hosts the World Cup

The airline is currently seeking an international stock exchange listing in Hong Kong and New York following a merger with Hong Kong-listed China National Aviation Company and unlisted domestic carrier China Southwest Airlines.

It is also looking for foreign airlines such as Lufthansa and Singapore Airlines to take a stake in it, according to the Associated Press.

Although it is too early to say whether the crash will hamper attempts by the airline to expand, regional airline analyst Timothy Ross from UBS Warburg bank says it is unlikely that there will be any serious fallout.

"I don't think the crash will do anything to delay the consolidation process that Air China has embarked on," he told AFP.

Modern fleet

The airline currently holds one of the world's most modern fleets, with 69 planes, including 18 Boeing 747s, and operates 114 routes: 43 international and 71 domestic.

The average age of its planes is only two years old, Reuters news agency reports.

Ironically, the airline's emblem depicts a soaring phoenix that is supposed to bring good luck.

Its motto, which states its intention to "provide passengers and cargo shippers with services they can trust and to serve China's economic progress and international exchanges", could also be put to the test as South Korea prepares for the World Cup later this year.

See also:

15 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
Chinese plane crashes in Korea
15 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
In pictures: Korea plane crash
12 Feb 02 | World
Air disaster timeline
08 Mar 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: South Korea
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