With the rapid development of China’s economy, business aviation is viewed by many in the country as a so-called “Blue Ocean industry” with vast potential. As estimated by Embraer in its last market forecast, by 2020 China may represent a market for as many as 635 business jets. Bombardier is even more optimistic, projecting a need for almost 1,000 more business jets in the coming decade.
Based on the figures published by Civil Aviation Authority of China (CAAC), the business aviation industry has been the fastest growing sector in Chinese civil aviation over the past three years. However, the expansion of the market also highlights the factors that restrain it.
The recent “Two Sessions” [the annual main meetings of the National People’s Congress and Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference] saw representatives from China’s general and business aviation industry raise the same issue. The session featured Zijing Liu, a CPPCC member and the chairman of China Civil Airport Association; Xiangkai Meng, a NPC deputy and chairman of Avic General Aircraft Co. (Caiga); and Feng Yu, chairman of Avic. They called for urgent support of the country’s policies to assist the emerging industry of China’s general/business aviation sector.
Last year was regarded as the initial stage for China to introduce general aviation policies. The Chinese government policy document State Council’s Several Comments on Boosting the Development of Civil Aviation, issued in June 2012, highlighted general aviation development, including private and business flying, as one of the major tasks for the future.
The document stated that by the 2020, general aviation would be developed on a large scale, totaling two million flight hours annually with average yearly growth of 19 percent. It also stated that emerging general aviation services such as private and business flying would be promoted.
In December 2012, China’s Ministry of Finance and CAAC jointly introduced “Tentative Administrative Measures of the Special Funds for General Aviation Development.” The funds are targeted at activities such as general aviation operations, general aviation pilot training and completion of general aviation facilities. At the beginning of 2013, the information was distributed to all general aviation enterprises.
The introduction of these measures is only the beginning. Aircraft manufacturers still face a strict market access system with a long approval cycle and complicated procedures; meanwhile, the standards operating companies must adhere too are too tight. And with regards to training, the path for pilots is not simple, leading to a high turnover and resultant shortage of flight personnel.
Another important restricting factor is airspace control. Currently more than 70 percent of the airspace in China is controlled by the military, which leads to scarcity of airspace for general aviation activities.
In August 2010, the State Council and Central Military Commission jointly issued the Comments on How to Deepen the Reform of the Management of Our Country’s Low-altitude Airspace, which pointed out that before 2015, trial low-altitude airspace management reform would be carried out in Shenyang, Guangzhou, Beijing, Lanzhou, Jinan, Nanjing and Chengdu. However, until now, detailed policies covering the management of low-altitude airspace and airport construction have not been introduced. To a certain extent this has impeded and constrained the development of the general aviation industry.
Some NPC deputies from the industry proposed that the country introduce policies that will facilitate the development of general aviation, including preferential terms for intellectual property rights and establishment of general aviation joint ventures; sales of Chinese-made general aviation aircraft; development of infrastructure such as airports; the creation of industry associations; and the opening of fixed-base operations (FBOs).
In the meantime, regional aviation authorities in Chinas are to expedite the management of low-altitude airspace, facilitate the overall planning of construction projects such as airports, ground services and the upgrading of ATC systems. The theory is that these steps will encourage independent innovation and support the development of the national general aviation industry.