[photopress:general_aviation_China.jpg,full,alignright]At a conference in Beijing speaker after speaker said, ‘We need policy reform.’ They were talking about airspace.
China has a booming civil-aviation industry but is lagging behind in the field of ‘general aviation’ – which means everything besides commercial airliners and military aircraft. General aviation covers crop dusters, corporate jets, single-engine training aircraft and cargo aircraft, among other things.
This is much bigger than you might imagine. Civil aviation – where you get on an airline’s plane and go from Shanghai to, say, Sydney – accounts for most air passengers worldwide. But the most number of flights come from the much over-looked ugly sister – general aviation.
General aviation is important because without it you cannot have other forms of aviation. It allows training of pilots and technicians. It helps to develop infrastructure, a secondary web of small airfields in smaller and remoter cities which, in turn, allows for more efficient point-to-point transport.
Australia is an excellent example of how it works. Yes, the vast majority of passengers go to the major airports. But it is feeder traffic from places like Mudgee which keeps those flights ticking over. (And, incidentally, saved the life of friend of the writer by getting him to a Sydney hospital after a severe heart attack.)
In China general aviation is still a baby. It accounts for less than 1% of the world’s general-aviation fleet.
Comparative figures: 1,000 departures of private aircraft from Beijing’s airports last year, 60,000 from New York, 25,000 from Moscow and over 3,000 from Dubai.
What is the problem? First there is a 21% tax on imported aircraft. That is a problem but, in the scheme of things, relatively minor. The main problem is airspace. Most airspace is under military control with little spare capacity in civilian airspace so getting permission to fly means applying up to five days in advance.
There are very few ‘fixed based operators’ (FBOs), the service centres based in airports that maintain and operate private aircraft.
The government’s plans to promote general aviation are not clear. Mostly it comes down to the military hanging on to control of air space. It is quite plain that it is unwilling to let go, even at low altitudes were there should be no conflict. Eventually, it will have to if China it to continue its path onwards and upwards.
Source: The Economist
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