Tight air control rules impede private flights

By Xin Dingding (China Daily)
Updated: 2007-05-01 08:27

Private airplanes are catching on in China, but niggling problems are stunting the industry's growth.

The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) issued the first private airplane license in 1998. In 2001, 50 licenses were issued. The figure soared to 200 in 2005.

According to the Beijing-based Legal Daily, by April 19 this year, CAAC issued 1,371 licenses for flying small aircraft, including hot-air balloons.

But despite the tremendous amount of enthusiasm, the number of airplanes owned by individuals in China remains small, "only 70", according to a People's Daily report.

There are many reasons why. Take the case of China Central Television (CCTV). It bought a helicopter for reporting purposes in 2002, but it's hardly used.

An engineer with China Aviation Industry Corporation II (AVIC II) said the helicopter is now cooling its heels in Tianjin as Beijing doesn't even have a civil aviation airport with landing facilities for helicopters. Not to mention the tedious procedure CCTV would have to follow even if it did.

Industry insiders like Deng Yanmin, who developed the MF series of light airplanes, believe the current airspace control policy is a major hindrance to the growth of the small aircraft manufacturing industry.

Liu Tiemin, general manager of a company selling small planes in Shenyang, capital of Northeast China's Liaoning Province, said the company is flooded with phone calls every day. Everybody seems keen to know more about small planes, but most, says Liu, will give up the idea of buying when they get to know just how difficult it is to apply for permission to use the airspace.

By law, individuals must apply to the local air traffic control bureau before flying. The bureau forwards the application to the military for permission.

Private airplane owners can apply for the right to use a designated temporary airspace for a maximum of one year. Those flying on fixed routes only need to apply to the bureau one day in advance, but those wanting to fly on improvised routes need to apply three days before flying.

"If a flight crosses two regions, you have to apply to two air traffic control bureaus. It's too much of a trouble," said Liang Jinying, general manager of Beijing Yanqi Lake Aviation Club.

Many small plane owners simply dodge the tedious process. A sales manager who declined to give his name said many people just avoid the entire process and fly in the suburbs where there are no military bases because it's difficult to detect them there.

A small plane now costs between 1 million ($129,500) and 10 million yuan in China, and there are at least 300,000 Chinese with assets of over 10 million yuan. Eager as people are to own private planes, there's clearly a huge market for small planes just waiting to be tapped.

The AVIC II engineer said the small plane manufacturing industry could reach new heights if the airspace control were eased, easily selling 2,000 to 3,000 planes a year.

CAAC said it has been calling for the opening up of low-altitude airspace for years. But finally there is a glimmer of hope.

In mid-April, CAAC chief pilot Yu Zhenfa said the civil aviation authority has mapped out a reform plan, which will divide low-altitude airspace into three types. According to this plan, different airspaces will involve different processes of application.

The application process for using airspace lower than 600 meters is currently being simplified in a city in Northeast China and another city in South China's Guangdong Province.

CAAC has also set 2010 as the target year by which it will categorize airspace, and is now experimenting with a new technology called ADS-B, which it says will facilitate the development of private aviation.

Top China News  
Today's Top News  
Most Commented/Read Stories in 48 Hours