CHINA yesterday vowed to step up airport security, sack incompetent staff and eliminate the cost-cutting measures responsible for five crashes and nine hijackings this year. The assurance was given by recently-demoted aviation chief, Jiang Zhuping, in a report to top legislators. Mr Jiang admitted that lax airport management and ill-trained staff were to blame for the accidents and the record number of hijackings. The report, the second major statement by aviation chiefs this year, highlighted the crisis faced by China's aviation industry. There have been repeated calls by senior leaders such as Vice-Premier Zhu Rongji for an overhaul of the industry. They have warned that the reputation of the country will be tarnished by its poor aviation record. Mr Jiang, demoted to deputy director of the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) last week and replaced by Chen Guangyi, a former Fujian Communist Party chief, said 7 6 passengers and crew members died in five major accidents this year. Last year, 276 people were killed in four disasters. Hijackings have soared, with nine mainland airliners being diverted to Taiwan. In a report delivered before the fifth session of the Standing Committee of the National People's Congress, Mr Jiang said the frequent hijackings and accidents were partly because many aviation staff did not know how to respond to emergencies. Some personnel had little respect for regulations and seldom followed the rules. While some accidents were caused by mechanical failure and design flaws, the deputy director said ''unqualified maintenance personnel . . . who have problems in understanding new [aircraft] designs and had difficulties in maintaining the standards'' werethe main reasons. In addition, Mr Jiang said, some air companies had overlooked the importance of safety in their ''blind pursuit'' of growth. He singled out locally-run companies in his report, saying that some were unable to guarantee safety. ''Top priority will be given to the training of flight crews, to the strict administration of maintenance and flights and to tough safety checks in the airports,'' Xinhua (the New China News Agency) quoted Mr Jiang as saying. Poor airport design was also a contributing factor. According to Mr Jiang, the Government will invest 200 million yuan (HK$268 million) next year for the construction of safety facilities, including defensive stockades surrounding airports and equipment for security inspection and fire prevention. Reacting to the spate of hijackings, Mr Jiang said flight crews would soon be given anti-hijacking training and the authorities were working on a new anti-hijacking strategy for crew members. All airports on the southeastern seaboard would be subject to tighter security, he said. However, Mr Jiang said Taiwan's practice of ''harbouring hijackers'' was the main reason behind the surge in air piracy. ''Harsh punishment of hijackers is the best way to combat hijacking,'' he said. But the recent failure to reach agreement with Taiwan on the repatriation of hijackers has fuelled fears of further attempts. Among other measures, Mr Jiang said the CAAC must strengthen internal management and those responsible for accidents would be prosecution.