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Volume 14,Issue 3 Autumn 2012

What China can learn from GA around the world


While civil aviation is enjoying tremendous growth in China, general aviation is lagging behind. General aviation started in China in 1951, but 56 years later, it is still in its infancy. China is trying to shore up support for the development of general aviation, but several factors are hindering its growth. For one, its complicated airspace is a major bane. The military controls the majority of the airspace, while civil aviation occupies a small portion. Low-level airspace for GA aircraft is restricted, which becomes a headache for any individual or organization aiming to fly. On the other hand, general aviation, defined as aviation other than scheduled commercial airlines and military, is thriving in different parts of the world, gaining popularity and providing tremendous economic and social benefits to thousands of people. In the United States, general aviation is a US$102-billion industry. This accounts for one percent of the country’s total gross domestic product, according to the US-based Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), which has about 400,000 members. “Civil aviation contributes more than $900 billion and 11.3 million jobs to the U.S. economy, at least 9 percent of the U.S. GDP of $9.9 trillion. Of this, General Aviation contributes $102 billion,” according to the association. It estimates that 166 million people fly yearly using general aviation aircraft. General aviation is an integral part of the US economy. From crop dusting to weather operations, GA is a multi-billion-dollar industry in the US. Major airlines source their pilots from private flight schools, which use GA aircraft to train student pilots. General aviation also serves disaster relief, aerial photography, traffic control and safety, news gathering, forestry, search and rescue, wildlife management, telecommunications and banking and finance. AOPA says there are 20,000 airports and heliports in the US and only 540 of these are being served by civil airlines. In contrast, 5,300 airports are for public use by GA aircraft, while the rest are privately owned. GA aircraft in the US are used in emergency medical cases, including the delivery of medical supplies, evacuation or even organ donation. Sick and injured people are rushed to hospitals via small aircraft. Businessmen of all sorts use GA aircraft to go to cities to sign deals or meet with business partners. General aviation, in fact, provides 1.3 million jobs to Americans, AOPA says. The booming GA global industry has helped fuel the increasing production of GA aircraft in the world. According to the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), 4,048 aircraft were delivered in 2006, totaling US$18.8 billion. The shipments consisted of single-engine and multi-engine pistons, turboprops and business jets. GAMA estimates that there are 320,000 GA aircraft around the world today. But China has only 615 aircraft serving general aviation as of the end of 2005, consisting of 491 fixed-wing aircraft and 124 helicopters. By the end of 2005, there were only 68 fixed and 329 temporary airports serving general aviation in China. A total of 176,400 hours were flown in general aviation in China, according to the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO). General aviation operations in China are separated into three categories. Category A consists of land and offshore oil service, helicopter loading, artificial precipitation, medical service, aerial prospecting, air tour and sightseeing, business flights, private or commercial flight training, helicopter guidance, GA aircraft management, air taxi and charter flights. Category B consists of aerial photography, advertisement, ocean supervising, fishery, meteorological survey, scientific experiment, urban firefighting, aerial observation and patrol. Category C includes air seeding, fertilizing, spraying, insect control, weed control, plant disease control in agriculture and forestry, animal pest control and forestry service. Besides the restricted airspace, several factors are holding back the growth of general aviation in China. To begin with, applying for a permit to fly takes several days, which frustrates the general idea of GA operation. China is also imposing a staggering 21 percent duty on imported aircraft, a major stumbling block to individuals and companies that intend to purchase their own private aircraft. This may be one of the reasons why the number of GA aircraft in China has not increased significantly in the last few years despite the economic growth and the increase in personal income of Chinese families. China needs about 6,500 commercial airline pilots by 2010, and general aviation will play a major role in the training and certification of these pilots. Also lacking are FBOs, airports and other services and infrastructure that will cater to general aviation. China has pledged to pay more attention to general aviation. This year, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) has issued new guidelines related to general aviation. Yet, further reforms and the easing of policies are needed just to level the playing field for general aviation. Encouraging the establishment of joint ventures between Chinese and foreign businessmen will be a big boost to spur growth. Just as in China’s civil aviation industry, businessmen see a big potential for general aviation. Companies such as Boeing and Airbus have proven that China is now a leading market for their civil aviation aircraft. But these businessmen could not penetrate or even start the growth in general aviation in China because of restrictive policies, shortage of infrastructure and high taxes. China should look into the general aviation market in the US and other countries to see how the industry can contribute billions in revenues. China has proven its might in the civil aviation market. It should now focus on general aviation as a potential growth area that can contribute to the country’s overall economic growth and social services.

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