China private airline gets first nod for international routes

SHANGHAI, July 18, 2007 (AFP) – China’s East Star Airline said Wednesday it had won approval to fly overseas, the first private carrier to do so, as part of efforts to loosen the nation’s strictly controlled civil aviation sector. The airline based in central China said in a statement that it gained approval from aviation regulators earlier this month and “expects to open flights between the city of Wuhan and Hong Kong and Macau in September.”

Hong Kong and Macau are still considered international cities even though the two former colonies were returned to Chinese sovereignty in the late 1990s.

East Star became the first of a growing group of private Chinese carriers when it started flying two years ago in the hopes of gaining a slice of one of the world’s fastest growing aviation markets.

But state carriers, including the three biggest airlines — Air China, China Eastern and China Southern — enjoy a monopoly over international flights as well as lucrative domestic routes like those between Beijing and Shanghai.

New carriers in China face a host of restrictions that puts them at a huge disadvantage to the bigger, government-linked airlines.

This has meant slow development for private and budget airlines