General aviation industry toward development
Low-altitude airspace resources should be released as soon as possible: political advisor
Published: Mar 04, 2021 06:03 PM
Civil aircrafts are displayed at the general aviation exhibition area of the Changchun Air Show in Northeast China's Jilin Province on October 20, 2019. Photo: VCG

Civil aircrafts are displayed at the general aviation exhibition area of the Changchun Air Show in Northeast China's Jilin Province on October 20, 2019. Photo: VCG

China's general aviation industry has seen stable development over the past five years from 2015 to 2020, with official data showed that the average annual growth of business volume was 13.7 percent. 

As China is one of the countries with the most severe natural disasters in the world, and general aviation industry also plays an important role in emergency transportation. Many localities are promoting the construction of general aviation airports, placing the development of general aviation in an important position to promote local economic development.

However, compared to public transport aviation, the development scale of general aviation appears to be relatively small.

News of five people killed in a helicopter crash during an artificial precipitation operation in Ji'an, East China's Jiangxi Province on Monday has drawn attention toward general aviation industry in China again. 

The B-10GD helicopter, developed by Beidahuang General Aviation Company, crashed at Ji'an county on Monday afternoon, according to the Jiangxi Provincial Meteorology Bureau. It announced that the five people in the helicopter were dead.

Market watchers and industry insiders also suggested that there are still many challenges which hinder the development of general aviation, including the slow progress of low-altitude airspace reforms and the inefficiency of low-altitude flight approvals.

Li Jian, CPPCC National Committee member said that most of the general aviation activities should fly after registration and the low-altitude airspace resources should be released as soon as possible, according to National Business Daily on Thursday. 

He said the airspace available for general aviation activities is still very small as the airspace used by civil aviation in China is less than 30 percent, with a vast majority still designated as controlled airspace. Low-altitude airspace open to general navigation is even rarer, which in cases makes flying less convenient and efficient, airspace suitable for private and recreational flight is very limited.

Li's remark came amid the backdrop of growing momentum in China's general aviation sector. A series of general aviation policies were launched in recent years. Meanwhile, local governments continued to support the industry and growth of the general aviation market in China. 

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 noted in the work report. 

In September 2019, the State Council noted in a document 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.

China has seen steady growth in its general-aviation sector in recent years, with the fleet growing to 2,844 general aircraft by the end of 2020, according to the civil-aviation authorities.

As of the end of last year, the number of conventional general-aviation companies in the country had risen to 523, according to statistics from the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC).

The number of registered unmanned aerial vehicles in China reached 523,600 by the end of 2020, with the total number of annual flight hours exceeding 1.59 million.

China's growing general-aviation sector has also seen the rapid expansion of aerial tours and parachuting. By the end of last year, there were more than 100 air routes for low-altitude tourism, providing aerial-tour services at about 50 tourist attractions nationwide, data from the CAAC shows.

However, as an industry that lags behind the pace of economic and social development, insiders said they hope the industry can achieve breakthrough development.

Policy from the top down and the impetus from the bottom are in place, especially from enterprises, but the biggest obstacles are the opening of low-altitude airspace and the construction of general airports, Gao Yuanyang, dean of general aviation industry research center with Beihang University said in an earlier interview with Global Times, explaining that flying in low-altitude airspace is not easy and the approval of general aviation airports construction is still difficult. 

Li, who is also the former deputy head of CAAC said that general aviation flight activity approval procedures are cumbersome. Almost all flying activities require participant to submit applications in advance, and the approval usually involves five to six departments, making efficiency low.

Although the number of general-aviation airports has increased rapidly during the 13th Five-Year Plan period (2016-20), there is still a big gap compared with the US. 

Li said currently, the provincial-level government could have the decision for the location, but the approval authorities involved in military site selection are controlled by the military and the approval procedure is slow which damps the investors' enthusiasm. 

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

Although many local governments and enterprises have high enthusiasm for the development of general aviation, they lack experts in relevant professional fields. Local governments generally lack support policies for the independent R&D and manufacturing of general aviation companies, resulting in weak investment growth and limited consumption stimulus, which makes many general aviation projects die halfway, Li added. 

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