By Associated Press Writer
updated 7/18/2005 8:55:34 AM ET 2005-07-18T12:55:34

China's first private low-cost carrier, Spring Airlines, launched its maiden flight on Monday, becoming the newest player in the country's increasingly modern and sophisticated travel industry.

Spring is one of several private carriers entering the Chinese market following the launch of Okay Airways Co., China's first private airline of the modern era, in March. Like Okay, Spring avoids the more heavily traveled routes such as Beijing-Shanghai, focusing on niche markets for tourists and business travelers.

One of the airline's three Airbus A320 jets departed from its base at Shanghai's Hongqiao Airport on Monday morning with 180 passengers on board, arriving about one hour later in the eastern coastal city of Yantai, said airline spokesman Li Weimin.

Daily flights to the central resort city of Guilin were also to begin Monday evening, Li said.

"Everyone was very pleased with how things went," Li said. "We want to allow people to fly who've never been able to afford it before," he said.

To keep operating costs low, Spring sells tickets exclusively from its Web site and offers only bottled water on its flights instead of meals. Ticket prices drop closer to departure times.

With increasing numbers of newly affluent Chinese flying, the government has been retooling its industry regulations.

State carriers have been consolidated into three large groups to boost efficiency and end a damaging price war. Early last year, the government began easing restrictions on private investment in airlines. Two other private airlines, Eagle Airlines and Huaxia Airlines, are expected to debut soon.

The expansion is fueling sales at aircraft makers ranging from U.S.-based Boeing Co. and Europe's Airbus SA to Brazil's Embraer. Boeing says Chinese airlines will spend $183 billion on aircraft over the next 20 years.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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