August 23, 2012
By Dan Namowitz
General aviation in the U.S. is an “economic powerhouse” that offers countries a model as they nurture their emerging aviation sectors, said Craig Spence, secretary general of the International Council of Aircraft Owner and Pilot Associations (IAOPA), in a speech in Shenyang, China.
China is well positioned to develop its general aviation network, which will flourish if it is built on a foundation of safety and regulatory support, Spence said in remarks to the China Low Altitude Economy Summit on Aug. 23. The theme of the summit, held in the capital city of Liaoning Province in northeast China, was “breakthrough innovation.”
With 5,261 public-use airports—10 times the number of commercial airports—and 19,000 available landings strips, general aviation provides “the only available option for fast, reliable, flexible air transportation to small and rural corners of the U.S.,” Spence told the audience of government aviation officials, dignitaries from AOPA-China, and other industry representatives.
General aviation’s infrastructure enables a $150 billion annual contribution to the U.S. economy, and supports millions of jobs and provides critical services in times of disaster or other need, said Spence, citing studies indicating that businesses that use general aviation aircraft “are more successful and productive than those that do not.”
To make it happen internationally, governments must embrace general aviation’s potential, support fee structures favorable to small aircraft operations, and provide “fair and equitable” access to airspace and infrastructure resources, he said. Regulation should promote growth that leads to development of new products and services.
‘Pave the back roads’
General aviation will thrive if aviation policy addresses the need to “pave the back roads,” he said, comparing commercial aviation to a system of highways that connects large cities, and general aviation to the roads that link smaller communities to the transportation network.
Tools to make that connection safe and effective must also be in place, such as automatic dependent surveillance-broadcast (ADS-B) and performance-based navigation technology providing many smaller airports with all-weather capability “at a fraction of the cost of conventional systems,” he said.
With favorable policies in place, countries with emerging general aviation networks can close a significant gap illustrated by the fact that in the United States, there is one airport for every 7,000 people, and one aircraft for every 1,100 people, while in India, there is one airport for every 22 million people, and one aircraft for every million people.
“Imagine the development potential and economic growth that could be generated if these numbers were cut in half, let alone reaching the levels experienced in the United States,” he said.
The Shenyang conference was one of numerous activities scheduled as part of AOPA Week, which also featured the first AOPA-China fly-in event Aug. 25 to 27 in Faku, and the 2012 AOPA Shanghai International General Aviation Show, Aug. 28 to 30 in Shanghai.
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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