Recent rules changes, however, indicate that China is preparing to
open its skies to private aircraft, in a move that may herald the
greatest expansion of business and private aviation in the last 30
Last month, China's aviation regulator simplified flight approval
procedures for private aircraft and lowered the threshold for
obtaining a private pilot license.
More importantly, the implementation of little-noticed guidelines
issued by China's State Council and the Central Military Commission
in 2010 will gradually lift the ceiling for low-flying aircraft by
For companies such as Cessna, Gulfstream, Dassault Aviation SA and
Bombardier Inc, which have spent the last decade trying to build
their China business, it may present a unique opportunity to expand
in the world's fastest-growing aviation market.
"This tells everyone publicly that China now endorses the use of
business aircraft and general aviation just like any other countries
worldwide," Roger Sperry, Gulfstream's senior vice president of
international sales, told Reuters in an interview. "I'm nothing but
General aviation, which refers to all flights that are not operated
by airlines, charter firms or the military, is already a $150
billion business in the United States.
In contrast, there are only 1,610 registered general aviation
aircraft in China, the latest figures from the China General
Aviation Association show.
That compares with about 228,000 in the United States, according to
Craig Spence, secretary general of the International Council of
Aircraft Owner and Pilot Associations.
Joseph Tymczyszyn, a former representative of the U.S. Federal
Aviation Administration in China, said when he mentioned private
aircraft to Chinese industry officials nine years ago he was told
commercial aviation was the priority.
"When I talked to CAAC about general aviation in 2004, Ma Tao said,
'Don't waste your time and money, nobody is interested in that',"
Tymczyszyn, a co-founder and executive director of the U.S.-China
Aviation Cooperation Program, told Reuters.
Ma, then the deputy director general of the Flight Standards
Department of the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC), was
among a group of Chinese aviation officials who often visited the
United States, where their experience of general aviation began to
change attitudes, Tymczyszyn recalled.
Still, in a country where the military controls 80 percent of
airspace there were formidable obstacles to expanding private air
travel. Approval for a three-hour trip on a private plane would take
at least two weeks and was never guaranteed.
Lack of facilities where small planes can take off, land or refuel,
as well as a dearth of low-altitude aviation maps, have meant
hopping on a private plane to visit the other side of the country
for the weekend remains a dream for even the most well-heeled.
"We had a few sales in 2006, 2007 and 2008, but very limited in
numbers," recalled Jean Michel Jacob, senior vice president of
international sales with France's Dassault Falcon.
Sales started to pick up in 2010 and so far the French company has
sold 30 jets in China, with 20 scheduled for delivery in 2014-2015.
For U.S. rival Gulfstream, owned by General Dynamics Corp, Greater
China represents about 6 percent of a worldwide delivery of 2,150
jets, compared with 65 percent to the United States.
Business jet sales in China for Canada's Bombardier have topped 100,
while Textron Inc's Cessna has sold more than 70 planes.
All are gearing up for growth.
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In November 2012, Gulfstream's Beijing maintenance center, with an
82,000-square-foot (7,600-square-meter) hangar, opened for business.
Dassault Falcon, which has maintenance facilities in Hong Kong and
Shanghai, is scheduled open a new one in Beijing next year, and
plans to recruit more native Chinese speakers to its sales team.
Cessna has already started delivery of its Grand Caravan EX made at
its China venture with state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of
China (AVIC). Delivery of its Citation XLS+ jets built by a separate
venture with AVIC is scheduled to begin in the fourth quarter of
2014, according to William Schultz, senior vice president of
Business Development at Cessna Aircraft's China operations.
Bombardier forecasts overall business jet deliveries in Greater
China at 2,420 in 2013-2032, with 1,000 to be delivered in
2013-2022, rising to 1,420 during 2023-2032.
The growth, industry insiders say, would be fuelled in part by
demand for smaller jets in a country where large-cabin models, such
as Dassault's Falcon 7x or Gulfstream's G550 and G650, are among the
"There is a beautiful potential in this market," Beijing-based Jacob
BEAT THE JAMS
Guidance issued by regulators in 2010 aims to open up airspace below
1,000 meters (3,280 ft) by 2015 and expand to airspace below 3,000
meters by 2020.
Pilot scheme were started in Changchun in the northeast, and
Guangzhou and Hainan Island in the south, where private aircraft
owners need only submit flight plans before 3 p.m. the previous day,
unless they encroach on militarily sensitive areas.
The experiment was expanded to other cities in 2012 and will spread
other regions gradually.
"It's pretty much like the way China transformed itself from a
planned economy to a market-oriented economy in the 1980s," said Ke
Yubao, executive secretary general of state-backed Aircraft Owners
and Pilots Association of China.
"It all started from the Shenzhen special economic zone and then
spread to other parts of the country."
Besides investing billions in new airport construction, for both
commercial and general aviation, China has also been making progress
with low-altitude aviation maps, a source told Reuters.
And once general aviation spreads its wings, there may be fewer
frustrated drivers in China increasingly congested cities, where
traffic can move at snail's pace in rush hours and weekends.
"I laughed when I saw people in a Ferrari going
1 mile an hour in
a Beijing traffic jam. If you buy a Cirrus or Cessna, you can
actually go 150 miles an hour and it's more fun," said Tymczyszyn.
(Editing by Alex Richardson)
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