China’s anticipated aviation growth could offer opportunities for Georgia businesses, said Jeff Pearse, director of marketing and business development at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.

Mr. Pearse discussed the extent of China’s anticipated aviation growth and a recent visit of Chinese aviation authorities to Hartsfield-Jackson during a China Town Hall Forum held at the Southern Center for International Studies.

The forum was one of 30 such meetings held across the United States May 31. They featured a live videocast with Christopher R. Hill, assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific Affairs. Afterwards, panelists in each of the 30 cities discussed issues relevant to China.

Mr. Pearse was one of the Atlanta panelists.

During the session, he explained that China is expected to become the second largest aviation market in the next four years – behind the U.S.

By 2020, the country will need 3,000 commercial aircraft, he said, jokingly recommending attendees to “buy stock in Boeing and Airbus.” Both aircraft manufacturers have already sold planes to China.

But the country is also expected to add 220 airports to its existing 142 by 2020 and train 40,000 pilots to serve its population that will be well over the current 1.3 billion people that live in the country today, he said.

By contrast, the U.S., which has a population of about 300 million people, has more than 15,000 airports, Mr. Pearse said.

“There is great opportunity in China’s aviation world, and it’s important that Atlanta is recognized as a partner there,” Mr. Pearse said at the forum, noting that Hartsfield has been working closely with the Civil Aviation Authority of China.

The airport, in fact, welcomed officials from the CAAC May 21 for a tour of Atlanta’s airport operations.

The delegation visited U.S. airports to explore business relationships between airports and airlines, to understand how airlines such as Delta Air Lines Inc. create hubs in cities like Atlanta and to learn about the financing procedures for airport maintenance and infrastructure development projects, Mr. Pearse said.

The group was particularly impressed to witness three simultaneous incoming flights into Hartfield-Jackson, which have been made possible since the airport opened its fifth runway last year, he said.

“That can’t happen in China. That’s a distinguishing characteristic of Atlanta’s aviation construction,” Mr. Pearse said of Hartsfield’s three parallel runways that allow for multiple take-offs and landings to occur at the same time.

China is expected to spend between $15 billion and $18 billion on airport development in the next few years, Mr. Pearse said.

After visiting Atlanta, the nine-person Chinese delegation traveled to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, which is the hub for American Airlines.

Two days after the group’s visit to Atlanta, the Chinese and U.S. governments announced a liberalized air travel agreement that will allow U.S. carriers to increase their daily flights to China from 10 to 23 by 2012.

Other panelists at the town hall forum included Amy Celico, senior director, office of China affairs at the U.S. Trade Representative and Mark Sobolewski, vice president of international strategy of United Parcel Service Inc.

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Southern Center for International Studies (404) 261-5763

Herschel Grangent, media relations manager (404) 530-2398