China has broad ambitions to compete with the United States and Europe in the business of flying airliners. The country is building its own jets, with long-term ambitions to compete with Boeing and with Airbus, the European aerospace giant. China makes airliner electronics equipment and is developing its own jet engines. And its executives now play major roles in international air transport organizations.
That increased global participation includes airline safety. The International Civil Aviation Organization, the United Nations specialized agency that coordinates global aviation regulations, chose a Chinese regulator as its secretary general for the first time in 2015. The regulator, Fang Liu, an aviation law expert who long worked for China’s main flight regulatory agency, was reappointed last year to a second three-year term.
Some of these ambitions have raised concerns within the Trump administration because the line between civil and military technology can blur quickly in the aviation business.
For example, the China Aviation Industry Corporation, a state-owned enterprise better known as AVIC, has become a big producer of commercial aircraft components for Boeing. It also makes some of the world’s most advanced stealth fighter jets for the Chinese Air Force. The Trump administration put some kinds of aircraft equipment, like jet engines, in the initial 25 percent tariffs that it imposed last summer on $50 billion a year of goods imported from China.
China has not always been so self-confident in international aviation. A spate of deadly crashes in the 1990s, including seven from 1992 to 1994 that killed a total of 492 people, prompted China to turn to the F.A.A. for help. The F.A.A. sent advisers and provided voluminous information on how it regulated practically every detail of aircraft operations in the United States.
Chinese regulators successfully adopted the same procedures. While other fast-growing economies in middle-income countries have had periodic crashes, China has not had a major crash since 2010. That was when an Embraer ERJ-190LR, imported from Brazil and operated by Henan Airlines, crashed and burned while trying to land on a foggy runway in northeastern China. The crash killed 44 of the 96 people aboard.
Some of the ways China keeps its skies safe are familiar — sometimes, annoyingly so — to frequent fliers. Even in good weather, Chinese airports do not let planes take off or land as quickly in succession as many airports in the West. When thunderstorms threaten, they space out the takeoffs and landings even more. Sometimes air traffic controllers tell pilots to land somewhere else. Long delays lead to frequent stories in the Chinese media of frustrated passengers who start fights or open an emergency door for fresh air. But the measures help keep fliers safe.