The government aims to better support general aviation industry
Published: Jan 16, 2020 07:23 PM

A helicopter takes off with the first batch of passengers to visit the ancient city of Lhasa, Southwest China's Tibet Autonomous Region. Photo: CNSphoto

China's civil aviation regulator said the government will further reduce the institutional costs of general aviation operations to better support the industry's development. 

The regulator will implement case-filing register system for non-operating general aviation activities, support local governments to build general airports in the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area and also support the application of drones for general aviation, Lian Xiuqin, an official from Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) said in a forum on Saturday held in Beijing. 

"The general aviation operating environment in China has been significantly improved," she said. "The regulator will speed up the improvement of the low-altitude flight service guarantee system to ensure that general aviation can fly and fly smoothly."

Lian's remarks came in the backdrop of growing momentum in China's general aviation sector. A series of general aviation policies were launched just last year. Meanwhile, local governments continued to support the industry and growth of the general aviation market in China. 

Insiders said the Chinese general aviation market is just like a paper which can draw a beautiful picture with the enthusiasm from the pioneers and the regulator's reform.

Figures from the General Aviation Manufacturers Association showed that in the first three quarters of 2019, the number of global general-aviation aircraft delivered was 1,742, a year-on-year increase of 7 percent. During the same period, the number of new general-aviation aircraft in China exceeded 200, and it is expected to grow 12 percent for the whole year.

Data from CAAC showed registered general aviation airports across the nation in 2019 reached 246, the first time more than civil airports. The number of registered drones exceeded 390,000 units with 1.25 million flying hours recorded last year.

Chinese Premier Li Keqiang delivered a government work report in March 2019, noting that the government will increase investment in infrastructure such as civil and general aviation. It was the first time general aviation was marked in the work report. 

In September 2019, the State Council said in a file that the government will promote the construction of general aviation airports, promote the development of low-altitude flight tourism, cultivate a dynamic general aviation market, and deepen reform of the airspace management system.

In 2019, there were 11 general aviation airports included in the scope of subsidies for small and medium-sized airports. The airports were subsidized by 43.39 million yuan ($6.3 million); 197 general aviation companies were subsidized for 482 million yuan, and another 13 general aviation companies were awarded regional aviation subsidy of 5.3 million yuan, according to Gao Yuanyang, dean of general aviation industry research center with Beihang University. 

"The subsidies are really good for the development of general aviation, as the industry is still at the early stage," Gao told the Global Times on Wednesday. 

Compared with other industries, the general aviation industry in 2019 showcased a decent response. However, as an industry that lags behind the pace of economic and social development, insiders said they hope the industry can achieve breakthrough development.

The policy from the top and the impetus from the bottom are ready, especially from enterprises, but the biggest obstacles are the opening of low-altitude airspace and the construction of general airports, Gao said, explaining that flying in low-altitude airspace is not easy and the approval of general aviation airports construction is still difficult. 

"The barriers are like an invisible barrier that can be seen through but not penetrated," he said. 

"It is necessary to quickly implement the low-attitude airspace reform as the reform currently is still at the first stage," Chen Zhijie, academician of Chinese Academy of Engineering said in the forum, noting that it is necessary to gradually push airspace classification and refined management, and create a low-altitude economy integrating drones and manned aircraft. 

To better develop the general aviation market, local governments are also flocking to the industry. Provinces such as Shanxi, Jiangxi and Jilin vowed to develop local general aviation industry in 2019, after other provinces' earlier planning.

However, Chinese aviation industry insiders warn local governments should not blindly develop general aviation industry and should factor in their own characteristics in the market.