October 5, 2011
By Dan Namowitz
General aviation is growing in China, has acquired significant government support for expansion, and is spreading its wings across the country to a surprising degree, said a senior AOPA executive who attended a September aviation conference in Beijing.
“It is clear that the long-anticipated growth of general aviation in China is now happening, and at a quick pace,” said Melissa Rudinger, AOPA senior vice president of government affairs, after attending the AOPA China First Annual Conference and China Low Altitude Economy Summit Sept. 22 and 23.
About 350 conference attendees heard from speakers including the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC), the Chinese Air Traffic Management Bureau, the Central Military Commission, provincial governors, and Beijing city officials. There were also presentations by aviation company representatives, as well as representatives of AOPA, AOPA Korea, AOPA Philippines, and the International Council of Aircraft Owner and Pilot Associations (IAOPA).
The main catalyst of GA’s recent growth spurt in China was an opinion letter issued by the Central Military Committee last year, Rudinger said.
With the Chinese military in control of the country’s airspace, policies outlined in the letter provided a window onto the future of civilian aviation. Officials described it as outlining a building-block approach to the opening of airspace, enabling a test program for GA operations at five locations, establishing panels to design a civilian air traffic system, and offering other measures aimed at developing GA infrastructure.
A military spokesman “made a very clear statement to the press that ‘the government will support GA development with favorable policies and regulations as well as provide financial aid,’” Rudinger said.
The visitors’ on-scene inspection of GA in China led them to the upbeat conclusion that there was more flying going on than they had expected.
“There is a robust light sport community that is permitted to operate at dozens of locations around the country, under special permission of the military,” Rudinger said. “There are also 28 established flight schools and 200 general aviation airports.”
A vision of GA’s future in China was gleaned from the Civil Aviation Administration of China five-year plan outlined at the conference. It forecasts the development of up to 400 airports, civil aviation regulations, evaluation of various levels of controlled airspace, development of flight schools, and a financial structure for supporting GA. Details of the plan will be on the agenda of a GA Development Forum scheduled in Beijing Oct. 13 and 14, when officials also plan to update policy and legislative initiatives.
The 20 full-time staff members of AOPA China are playing a role in GA’s emergence, by managing committees on technical functions, regulatory development, aviation standards, medical science, women pilots, and an aircraft manufacturing and experimental committee. While the conference was in progress, a delegation of CAAC officials were experiencing America’s GA at AOPA Aviation Summit in Hartford, Conn. The delegation, which was visiting the United States for the 2011 U.S.-China Aviation Summit in Washington, D.C., flew to Bradley International Airport aboard Citation jets provided by AOPA and Cessna Aircraft.
Dan Namowitz is an aviation writer and flight instructor. He has been a pilot since 1985 and an instructor since 1990.
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