WINTER HAVEN — Two parties that were worlds apart — literally and when it came to aviation — came together Tuesday at Winter Haven Regional Airport.
About 25 people associated with the Civil Aviation Administration of China were at the airport to learn more about general aviation, non-tower airports and seaplanes.
“We are strong believers in success in collaboration,” Mayor Steven Hunnicutt said. “Polk State College Aerospace Program, Central Florida Aerospace and Sun n’ Fun Fly-In and Expo are all part of this effort. We believe every new relationship leads to new opportunities. We hope this meeting with you is the beginning of a new international relationship.”
Ma Min, CEO of Alton Aviation Consulting’s China Office, said aviation in China is almost entirely commercial. General aviation is mainly for industrial, agriculture and government use in China, Ma said.
“This is an eye-opening process,” she said. “In China, there’s no non-tower-controlled airport. It’s not available yet.”
Jamie Beckett, an ambassador for the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, said there are protocols at each airport that ensure pilot safety. In Winter Haven, Beckett said, pilots fly in at a 45-degree angle and make left turns upon landing.
“People think we’re cowboys,” Beckett said. “Our No. 1 thing is being safe. It’s that level of organization that lets us know how long runways are and all the patterns. You can call Tampa or Orlando and they’ll hold your hand through it.”
City Manager Mike Herr compared the Civil Aviation Administration of China to the Federal Aviation Administration, which he added is a big source of funding for the airport. Bruce Lyon, the chairman of the Airport Advisory Board and executive director of Winter Haven Economic Development Council, explained the public-private dynamic associated with the airport.
“The important part of this is the private sector … provides direct input to the government about the airport and how it’s functioning,” Lyon said. “By being involved with the EDC and Airport Advisory, we’re able to create new synergies that otherwise wouldn’t exist.”
Eric Crump, the director of the aerospace program at Polk State College, talked about the importance of engaging young people in aviation early. Crump said the college starts recruiting students for its program as young as 7 years old.
“We don’t wait until a student is in college to get them interested in an aerospace career,” Crump said. “Even though our program is only 5 years old, we currently have 300 students pursuing careers as pilots, engineers and managers. We have a global need for aerospace professionals.”
Crump said the program at Polk State has a 100 percent placement rate with graduates. He added that about 80 percent of pilots training across the world are trained in Florida.
“I think it’s because of the weather,” he joked. “While our need in the U.S. is severe, your need is very critical. We hope while you’re here, we develop a relationship that’s mutually beneficial for residents of the U.S. and your future pilots in China.”
Adam Cowburn, managing director of Alton Aviation Consulting, said that’s part of the goal.
“In China, they’re starting with a blank slate,” Cowburn said. “Here, it’s a very hands-off approach. In China, there’s a lot of processes, regulation, government involvement. We’re hoping they’ll see a U.S.-style industry and increase aviation in China.”
After a presentation at an airport conference room, the Chinese visitors went to the seaplane base. Winter Haven is the largest location of seaplane training in the U.S. Since the 1960s, more than 20,000 seaplane pilots have been certified at the location.
“There (are seaplanes) in China, but not as broad as the U.S.,” Ma said. “China does not have comprehensive seaplane regulation. It’s not really for personal entertainment.”