China's aviation sector set for takeoff

08:32, November 16, 2010      

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Government approval of plans to open part of its low-altitude airspace to the general aviation industry may unleash pent-up demand for private air services and create a market worth more than one trillion yuan ($150 billion), experts said.

A circular jointly issued on Sunday by the State Council and the Central Military Commission said China will gradually open part of its low-altitude airspace - altitudes lower than 1,000 meters - for private flights to promote the country's general aviation sector, or the use of aircraft for purposes other than those of airlines, the military and the police.

According to the circular, the country's low-altitude airspace will be divided into three sections: areas under control; areas under surveillance; and areas where aircraft can fly freely after reporting their flight plans in advance.

Previous regulations placed low-altitude airspace under strict control throughout China, forcing private planes to apply in advance for flight approval, which often took a long time.

As a result of this policy, a sharp contrast has emerged in China between the huge size of its population and the low number of aircraft used for general aviation.

"Demand for private air services is growing rapidly among the wealthy, but the administrative hurdle is in the way," said Lu Yongguang, an industrial analyst from Central China Securities.

There are around 1,000 aircraft used for general aviation across the country, while the United States has 222,000 registered general aviation planes and Canada has 10,000, Lu added.

"The gap is a result of the (restricted) airspace," said Scott C. Donnelly, president and chief executive officer of the US-based aircraft specialist Textron Inc, during an earlier exclusive interview with China Daily.

Donnelly said Chinese restrictions on both business jets and pilot training are still stiff, making the procedure extremely complicated.

But he anticipates China making its low-altitude airspace more accessible for general aviation.

"More business people in China have started to buy private jets and a growing number of people want to learn to fly. Once the airspace is allowed for general aviation use, you will see many businesses benefiting from it," he said.

Shane Tedjarati, president and CEO of Honeywell China and India, the US-based maker of flight controls, auxiliary jet engines and industrial automation products, said the decision to open low-altitude airspace for private planes - with the initial majority to be helicopters - will boost the efficiency of not only the police and emergency services, but also executives.

A helicopter trip from an office in Hong Kong to a manufacturing base in Zhongshan city of Guangdong province takes up to 25 minutes, whereas a day is required to make the same journey by car or train.

The circular said an efficient management and operation mechanism will be established to facilitate the development of the general aviation sector.

"Over the next five to 10 years, China will build a mechanism of regulations, services, infrastructure, pilot training facilities and flight safety monitoring facilities," the circular said.

Trial operations of the open airspace reform will start in some areas in 2011 before being expanded to other parts of the country.

But some analysts are skeptical about a quick change in the industry. Li Lei, an analyst at CITIC China Securities, pointed out the absence of a detailed plan on the use of low-altitude airspace and that the actual market situation was unclear.

Li said trial operations of the reform will begin in the cities of Changchun, Guangzhou and Shenyang.

Xinhua and Wang Zhuoqiong contributed to this story.

By Wang Ying, China Daily


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