China will build 70 new airports within the next three years, the head of the country's aviation watchdog said Monday, as part of ambitious expansion plans in the industry despite an economic slowdown.
Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) chief Li Jiaxiang also reiterated pledges that carriers would buy on average more than 300 planes a year from 2011 to 2015 -- the country's current five-year economic plan.
"China plans to build 70 new airports in the next few years and to expand 100 existing airports," he told delegates in Beijing at the annual general meeting of global airline industry group IATA.
He added that the number of airports would reach more than 230 by the end of 2015, and that Chinese carriers would operate around 4,700 planes by then.
The aggressive expansion comes after IATA head Tony Tyler warned that global airline profits would more than halve this year on the back of surging oil prices and the eurozone crisis.
The airline industry in the Asia-Pacific region is expected to turn in a $2 billion profit in 2012, according to IATA figures released on the sidelines of the AGM, but this still represents less than half of the region's 2011 profit.
The group did not provide specific projections for the China market -- which has so far experienced booming growth due to rising demand for air travel as increasingly affluent Chinese people travel more frequently.
But it said part of the reason behind the projected drop in profits in Asia-Pacific was a slowdown in the Indian and Chinese economies.
Growth in China, the world's second largest economy, slowed to 8.1 percent in the first quarter of 2012 -- its slowest pace in nearly three years.
But Ma Kai, a state councillor in charge of economic development, said at the AGM that China's aviation market had the "biggest growth potential" in the world.
"Ever since 2005, the industry has realised an annual growth rate of 17.5 percent," he said.
"We have contributed to the current development of growth in the global civil aviation industry and will continue to do so for the time to come."
Li added that by the end of 2011, China had 2,888 commercial planes in operation and its aviation industry employed 1.2 million people.