CHINA will acquire some 620 aircraft worth around US$44 billion between now and 2011, according to Airbus Industrie's latest, slightly more bullish, market forecasts. While this remains conservative compared to previous Boeing forecasts of 800 aircraft by 2010, it still represents a very sizeable chunk of total worldwide sales. Airbus estimated sales to China would account for 20 per cent of the total 3,100 aircraft expected to be ordered by Asia-Pacific carriers over the next 19 years. Of the 620 aircraft orders expected to be placed by China, some 480 would be needed to satisfy traffic growth while the remaining 140 aircraft would be needed to replace ageing aircraft already in operation, said Airbus. It estimated air travel growth would average 7.2 per cent a year up to 2011. Once again, Airbus' China figures might be on the conservative side. Passenger traffic in China leaped 33 per last year alone to 30 million and is expected to rise at least another 20 per cent this year. Boeing predicts worldwide air travel growth to average 5.4 per cent in the years to 2010. China has seen rampant growth in its civil aviation industry since the breaking by the Civil Aviation Authority of China's monopoly on mainland air travel in 1988. The number of passenger carriers has leaped from one to 35 in these few years. There is still enormous scope for further expansion, to the delight of foreign aircraft and engine manufacturers. But the question is: can China cope with the infrastructure growth and skilled manpower needed to keep up with passenger demand? New airlines are springing up left, right and centre and a mass of new airports and airport expansions is underway. But the problem is finding the people to man them? China faces big shortages of skilled, experienced staff in nearly every field, from customs and air traffic control officers to pilots and engineers. The likes of Airbus, Boeing and McDonnell Douglas are well aware of this and have been bending over backwards to help out with training, realising that they will ultimately lose out through lower orders if China fails to realise the full potential its aviation sector holds. Winning aircraft orders from China has become of prime importance during the worldwide aviation slump because of the drought of ready buyers elsewhere. Boeing, which claimed to have a 57 per cent share of orders worldwide last year, has won the bulk of its orders from China this year. Boeing is scheduled to deliver 47 new aircraft to China, 15 per cent of its worldwide sales, this year. By 1996, it expects to have delivered 225 aircraft worth a total $9 billion to China. Airbus and McDonnell Douglas have tried to gain favour by allowing some parts to be manufactured in China. McDonnell Douglas has opened a joint-venture factory in Shanghai, which has already produced 35 MD-82 and MD-83 twin-jets, and recently launched a new programme to build 20 158-seater MD-90s. Meanwhile, two Chinese manufacturers are involved in making parts for Airbus aircraft - Xian Aircraft Co, which makes A300 and A310 access doors and A320 carbon-fibre fin-ribs, and the Shenyang Aircraft Corp, which makes wing-ribs and emergency exit hatches for the A320, plus machined parts for the A300 and A310. Airbus has so far managed to win aircraft orders from Shanghai-based China Eastern Airlines, Xian-based China Northwest Airlines and Shenyang-based China Northern Airlines. It is now discussing the acquisition of six A340s with China Southern Airlines of Guangzhou.