The US is urging China to loosen controls on military airspace to meet increasing demand for civilian flights.

Robert Sturgell, FAA deputy administrator, said on Wednesday China?s rapidly developing civil aviation sector would benefit greatly from more ?flexible use? of airspace reserved for the military.

?If you look at the United States airspace ? like China ? we have a lot of military airspace,? Mr Sturgell said. ?In the US, we predominantly use airspace for civil users but we also maintain flexibility for the military use as well.?

Some 80 per cent of US airspace was for civilian use, but the figure was likely to be lower in China, Mr Sturgess said.

Like other countries, Beijing sets limits on domestic and international flight routes for national security reasons. China?s regulations on the use of private jets and other airborne devices, such as tethered balloons, are also far more stringent than in the west.

Even though China?s aviation market is the world?s fastest growing and demand for flights to new destinations is escalating, it is unlikely to open its skies further in the short term.

Officials with China?s aviation body and military on Wednesday declined to comment on whether they are considering the US request, which was made during a round of bilateral trade talks.

Mr Sturgell said China had about the same land mass as the US, and both countries had a concentration of air traffic along their east coast. Demand for international services to Chinese cities, even second-tier cities in the west and interior, is growing however.

Dutch airline KLM plans to launch a service from Amsterdam to the south-west city of Chengdu next month. And American Airlines this month introduced a Chicago-Shanghai flight.

China?s domestic carriers are also offering more flights to lesser-known destinations. This week, aviation officials agreed to purchase 80 Boeing 737s, just days before President Hu Jintao is scheduled to visit the US.

US and Chinese aviation officials have been co-operating on air traffic control, safety standards, reducing fuel costs and implementing a ?next generation? air transport system.

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