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Volume 14,Issue 3 Autumn 2012

GA’s role in emergency response


As the devastating earthquake hit Sichuan Province in China on May 12, millions of people were left homeless and isolated from the rest of the country. At the epicenter of the earthquake, buildings and homes were leveled. The death toll has risen to almost 70,000, while thousands have been treated for injuries. It is considered the deadliest earthquake since the 1976 Tangshan earthquake.
In the aftermath of the disaster, rescue operations were immediately conducted by the Chinese government in order to bring relief aid, food and medicine to the victims. As most of the towns that were affected were in mountain villages that were isolated after the tremor struck, air rescue became the main means to bring aid to the victims. Helicopters were deployed to drop food packets. The Chinese military led in the search and rescue operations, trying to reach victims and bring assistance. The Civil Aviation Administration of China deployed helicopters to ferry victims in Guangyuan town, one of the hardest-hit areas. Since May 12, the CAAC, in cooperation with different Chinese government agencies, has been working around the clock to coordinate the deployment of aircraft to the disaster areas. The disaster underscores the need for China to use general aviation as a crucial and efficient part of its emergency response and air rescue system. Today, China’s civil aviation industry enjoys a robust and continuing growth, thanks to the rising popularity of air travel brought about by the increasing personal wealth and income of the Chinese people. In stark contrast, general aviation in China has yet to soar in popularity, even if China’s geographical landscape provides it sufficient reason to be of use by the government, business sector and private individuals. Disaster relief and search and rescue are two important areas in which general aviation is most needed. “The pilots and aircraft of General Aviation (GA) are often the first to respond to these tragedies — sometimes even before they happen. GA aircraft are used to fly officials who survey and forecast the level of threat to their community. Once disaster strikes, GA is used to deliver emergency food and medical supplies, evacuate the trapped or injured, transport support personnel, and monitor the progress of cleanup efforts,” according to the website of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) called General Aviation Serving America. In the United States, general aviation is a growing industry by itself. According to the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA), general aviation contributes about US$150 billion to the US economy yearly, making it one of the most dynamic air transport industries in the world. In addition, GAMA says the industry employs about 1.26 million people. China is home to more than 1.3 billion people, and yet general aviation is far from being extensively used in different sectors, especially in emergency response and air rescue. Estimates placed China’s total GA aircraft to only about 500 as of last year. In contrast, the US -- which has about 301 million people -- has more than 221,000 GA aircraft flying today. The advantages of general aviation in China in the areas of emergency response and air rescue will be substantial. China’s geography and weather conditions highlight the essence of developing general aviation to address people’s needs. The country has mountains everywhere and experiences typhoons, floods and other catastrophes throughout the year. Villages become isolated when typhoons strike, creating a need to immediately airlift victims to safer grounds. The Sichuan earthquake experience is an example that demonstrates the way general aviation can be put to good use. Rescue operations are never easy, and with a lack of helicopters and other aircraft to carry victims, it is taking its toll on everyone. China needs to redirect its policies to open the general aviation market and spur growth. One problem is the lack of airspace that can be utilized for general aviation purposes. At present, the military controls China’s airspace and even commercial aircraft are finding it difficult to open new air routes. China is said to be planning to open its low-level airspace for aircraft use in 2010, a positive development for general aviation. The need to develop general aviation will be the key issue in the China General Aviation Forum 2008, which will be held June 23-25 at the Royalton Hotel in Shanghai. The anticipated event will be hosted by the Capital Airports Holding Company VIP Department and the China Civil Aviation Report (CCAR). Topics to be discussed in the Forum are: The potential of business jets visiting China for the 2008 Beijing Olympic and 2010 Shanghai World Expo; developing China’s emergency response and air rescue capability through GA; and the prospect of business jets leading the way towards bridging the gap across the Taiwan Strait. Key industry and government leaders and representatives from different GA sectors will be there to focus on how to develop China’s general aviation market. China has the potential to be a leading general aviation market. What is needed is the proper guidance and nurturing to successfully sustain the growth in the next few years.

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