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Friday, 10 May, 2002, 10:20 GMT 11:20 UK
Analysis: China's air safety
A Chinese man shields his eyes from the sun as a jet plane prepares to land at the Dalian airport in north-eastern China
Passengers need not worry, aviation experts say
A second fatal crash by a Chinese airline in less than a month is likely to dent passenger confidence but aviation experts have put the crashes down to coincidence.

A China Northern Airlines plane carrying 112 passengers and crew crashed into the sea of the coast of north-east China late on Tuesday, with all on board feared dead.


It's just an unfortunate set of circumstances

Chris Yates, an air safety expert
The crash came less than a month after an Air China jet crashed into a mountainside in South Korea, killing 129 of the 155 passengers.

Despite the two crashes, experts said Chinese air safety was better than ever.

Chris Yates, an air safety expert with aviation and defence publishers Jane's, told BBC News Online: "It's just an unfortunate set of circumstances.

"In the past China has had a fairly bad reputation for air safety, involving Russian-built aircraft from the Soviet days," he said. "With the newer Western-built aircraft China is fairly safe.

"It's no worse than anywhere else, quite frankly."

Fire

Chinese carriers invested heavily in training and equipment after a series of fatal crashes in the 1990s. The two latest accidents were their first fatalities in nearly two years.

Click here to learn about recent crashes involving Chinese airlines

Experts have noted that the crashes involved different airlines, aircraft types and different probable causes.

South Korean officials suspect pilot error and bad weather caused Air China's Boeing 767 crash last month. And shortly before Tuesday's crash, the pilot of the Chinese-built MD-82 airliner reported a fire on board.

The wreckage of a crashed Air China Boeing 767 airplane, April 2002
Pilot error probably caused the Air China crash
"That could potentially indicate damage to electrical cabling," said Mr Yates.

China does not allow smoking on domestic flights.

Chinese airlines have become major buyers of advanced Boeing and Airbus jetliners, and have also put more money into training.

In February, China Northern signed an agreement with Boeing to train 200 pilots in MD-90 flight simulators in California and has also sent pilots to Boeing's training centre in the south-west Chinese city of Kunming.

European aircraft maker Airbus also operates a training centre in Beijing.

The China Northern crash came as the airline was preparing to merge with the larger China Southern airline as part of a massive shake-up of China's aviation industry.

Experts said the merger should improve air safety and was not a cause for concern.

"The industry shake-up should help raise the level of safety of some smaller airline companies as the bigger ones have better safety records," said Albert Chen, an aviation analyst with DBS Vicker Securities in Hong Kong.

But a Chinese official, Yang Yuanyuan, has said the crash would prolong a two-year reform timetable for regrouping China's aviation industry.

Mr Yang, Vice Minister of the Civil Aviation Administration of China, said: "We have to invest most of our energy in resolving problems arising from the accident, so the reform plans might be on hold for a bit".

Mr Yang said the direction of reform would not change, and China's nine domestic airlines would still be merged into three new groups based on Air China, China Southern and China Eastern.

Recent crashes involving Chinese airlines:

7 May 2002: China Northern airline carrying 103 passengers crashes into the sea off the north-eastern city of Dalian.

15 April 2002: Air China Boeing 767 crashes into mountainside near South Korean city of Busan.

22 June 2000: Chinese built Yun-7 crashes near Wuhan killing all 44 people on board and seven on the ground.

24 February 1999 Russian-built Tupolev Tu 54 owned by China Southwest Airlines crashes in a field close to the city of Wenzhou, killing all 61 people aboard.

8 May 1997 China Southern Airlines Boeing 737 crash-lands in southern city of Shenzhen, killing at least 35 people.

June 1994 Soviet-built Tupolev owned by China Northwest Airlines explodes shortly after takeoff from Xi'an killing 160 in China's worst passenger air disaster.

Click here to return

See also:

08 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
In Pictures: Chinese air crash
08 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
'No survivors' in Chinese air crash
15 Apr 02 | World
Air disaster timeline
08 Mar 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: China
12 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
Chinese plane crashes in S Korea
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