China Southwest Air lines has grounded its fleet of four remaining Tupolev Tu-154Ms after one crashed on 24 February, killing all 61 people on board. The aircraft, descending towards its destination at Wenzhou, dived steeply into the ground with no time for an emergency call from the pilots.

The impact made a hole in the ground 60m long and 30m wide in a field about 30km from the airport.

The crashed Tu-154, a nine year old "M" model (B-2622), was carrying 50 passengers and 11 crew from Chengdu to Wenzhou on 24 February. At the last contact with air traffic control the crew had been cleared to descend from 1,000m (3,050ft) to 700m (2,100ft) in sunny weather with good visibility.

The last fatal accident to a Chinese carrier involved a China Southern Airlines Boeing 737-300 landing at Shenzhen in May 1997. China's air safety has improved radically since 1993, when there were four major fatal jetliner crashes. After that the government placed a compulsory freeze on the breakneck pace of airline expansion, with a view to improving training, infrastructure and air traffic control (ATC).

The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) has just published its long-term strategy for air traffic control. By 2010, says the CAAC, China will have replaced the existing 37 ATC centres with 10 new establishments at a cost of 10bn Yuan ($1.25bn)

Work on three of the new ATC centres - at Beijing, Shanghai and Guangzhou - has started, and the fourth will be at Wuhan. Locations for the remaining six have yet to be decided.

At the same time, the handover of ATC from the military to the CAAC has begun, with the three main domestic trunk routes (Beijing to Shanghai and Guang-zhou, and between Guangzhou and Shanghai) already handed over to the authority.

Source: Flight International