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"Company of Chinese president's son is awarded airport security deal"


 
Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Company of Chinese president's son is awarded airport security deal
Reuters 


BEIJING - A company led by Hu Haifeng, son of President Hu Jintao, has won a
government deal to supply airports throughout China with scanners to detect
liquid explosives, the company and civil aviation officials said Tuesday.

The company, Nuctech, and the Civil Aviation General Administration said the
scanners had outperformed competitors by using X-rays to detect in five
seconds whether a liquid was harmless or potentially volatile.

In a demonstration for the news media, executives placed bottles of wine,
water and lighter fluid into the devices the size of washing machines. A
monitor flashed red when dangerous liquids were detected.

Nuctech, where Hu Haifeng is president, and the aviation authority declined
to disclose terms of the deal. But the potential market for Nuctech's
scanners is huge, industry analysts said.

The China portion alone is worth at least tens of millions of dollars for
Nuctech. The aviation authority's director general for security, Yang
Chengfeng, said the scanners would be deployed in each of China's 147
airports, though he did not provide a schedule.

The export price for each unit is $200,000, said Liu Zhuoyan, vice president
of Nuctech, though the government often demands large discounts.

China banned passengers from taking almost all liquids on flights in hand
baggage after a plane crashed in May 2002 off the northern coastal city of
Dalian. The crash killed 112 people and was attributed to a passenger who
had set fire to gasoline carried in soft drink cans.

"If you want to guarantee passenger safety, you have to make an investment,"
Yang said. "We have to protect against liquid explosives. I'm preparing to
install these machines at all of China's civil airports."

Nuctech was founded nine years ago as a commercial offshoot of Tsinghua
University, which is considered China's top scientific school and is the
alma mater of Hu Jintao.

Yang said Nuctech's technology, not its political connections, had been the
decisive factor in winning the agency's approval.

"Of course, he has some background, but that had no effect on our decision,"
Yang said. "This has to do with people's lives, and you can't play games
with safety."

Yang added that China had not discovered any specific terror threats to its
airlines or airports but that this did not mean the threat was not real.

"Every country has people who are dissatisfied with society, though we've
never had anything like Sept. 11," he said. "Yet we do have a problem in
Xinjiang, which is unavoidable."

China keeps a tight grip on Xinjiang, an autonomous region in northwestern
China. It considers militant members of the Uighur, a Muslim minority in
Xinjiang, to be terrorists and blamed them for a string of bombings and
assassinations in the 1990s.

Uighur groups have not previously been blamed for attacks on Chinese
aircraft or airports. But China did experience a rash of hijackings in the
early 1990s, mostly by people demanding to go to Taiwan, and air safety was
tightened. China adopted additional security measures after the attacks of
Sept. 11, 2001, in the United States, including putting air marshals on
flights.

Yang promised safe travel for passengers during the 2008 Beijing Olympic
Games, saying the civil aviation authority was looking at enacting new
security measures like separate security channels for passengers.

Even with the new scanners, he said, the ban on most types of liquids being
taken on board in hand luggage would remain.

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