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China to open up more low altitude airspace

By Yang Jian (Shanghai Daily)

09:20, March 13, 2012

CHINA is to open up its low altitude airspace from 2015 to enable a growing number of planes for general aviation, including the purchase and use of private jets, the country's top civil aviation regulator said yesterday.

A trial operation in the southern Guangdong and central Hubei provinces will be expanded to northeast and south-central China this year and cover the whole country in 2015, Li Jiaxiang, director of the Civil Aviation Administration of China, said on the sidelines of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference in Beijing.

China's low-altitude airspace, normally below 1,000 meters, is controlled by the air force and the regulator. Every private flight needs approval to use the airspace.

China is also to build 72 new airports, for regional aircraft and private jets, mainly in the country's west, by 2015, Li said.

Shanghai is not on the list of trial areas, but the East China Bureau of the CAAC has said its airspace management plan will be formulated within five years.

Local aviation experts agree that the city should begin airspace management reform in view of the potential demand for helicopters and light planes.

Wei Jian, an aviation professor with Shanghai University of Engineering Science, said the move will be a further source of economic growth for the city.

Wei said the strict control of low-altitude airspace had long been regarded as a bottleneck in aviation development.

There are no figures for the number of private aircraft in China but earlier research suggests that there are 300,000 potential buyers.

A State Council document in 2010 said the country's low-altitude airspace will be divided into three sections - controlled areas, monitored areas, and areas where aircraft can fly freely after reporting flight plans in advance.

China has 9.98 million square kilometers of usable airspace, including 32 percent for civil aviation and about 24 percent for military use, according to the China National Airspace Technology Laboratory.

Zhang Wu'an, a spokesman for Shanghai Spring Airlines, said domestic airlines would welcome measures to open up more airspace to help reduce delays.

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