updated 2/28/2006 8:08:16 AM ET 2006-02-28T13:08:16

China will spend $17.4 billion over the next five years to expand its airport infrastructure to meet a forecast 14 percent annual growth in domestic air traffic, a civil aviation official said Tuesday.

That is sharply higher than the $14.9 billion the government spent on airport infrastructure in the fifteen years from 1990 to 2005.

"By 2010, the mainland will have about 186 airports, up from 142 currently," said Gao Hongfeng, vice-minister of the Civil Aviation Administration of China, or CAAC. Several existing airports will also be expanded to ease the pressure on capacity from rising traffic, he said at an aviation conference in Hong Kong.

Gao also said China's fleet of commercial aircraft will grow to 1,580 by 2010, up from 863 currently, before reaching a total of about 4,000 aircraft by 2020.

The government will continue to expand the country's three largest airports — Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou — to help them maintain their role as China's main international air transport hubs for passengers and cargo, he said.

Other airports slated for expansion include those in Shenzhen, Chengdu, Haikou, Hangzhou and Xian, he said.

China's aggressive aviation development plans come as air traffic continues to grow at double-digit rates. In 2005, Chinese airlines carried 138 million passengers, up 15.5 percent from the previous year, and 3.1 million metric tons of cargo, up 13.8 percent.

The CAAC said it expects passenger and cargo traffic to grow at an average of 14 percent a year until 2010, with growth then slowing to 11 percent annually in the period 2011-2020.

Gao said China is considering to establish a more open and free air transport network with ASEAN countries, which include Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, the Philippines, Singapore, Brunei and Vietnam.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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