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Still a long way to go for Chinese business aviation

In comparison with Europe, America and other developed countries, China’s business aviation industry is relatively young and small in size. However, the nation’s enormous development potential in business aviation has long attracted the world’s attention.

In China’s 12th Five-Year Plan — a series of the country’s social and economic development initiatives — the targets affecting the aviation industry include enhancing aviation infrastructure, improving the efficiency of utilisation of airspace resources and reforming the airspace management mechanism.

Nevertheless, through its seemingly prosperous appearance, there are many problems to be addressed before China is able to usher in explosive growth in its business aviation sector. An insider from China Civil Aviation (CAA) says:

“From the airspace standpoint, it will not be easy for business aviation to achieve rapid development under the existing regulation for Air Traffic Control (ATC). Unlike America’s low-altitude airspace, China’s airspace is under very strict limits.  The opening of airspace will require high-level government decision-making; the CAA and ATC alone will not be enough to change the status quo.”

It is also said that various government departments are still fumbling their way through the standard for China’s future low-altitude airspace. At the moment, it is still unclear how the airspace below 1000m would be measured.

The CAA insider adds:

“From the infrastructure perspective, China is still lacking in the number of airports and there are no airports exclusively used for business jets. However, discussions are in progress for the acceleration of airport construction and facilities that can support business jets. Airport construction remains to be a long-term work – it involves land, commerce, airspace and many other issues; there is also a big restriction on investors.”

It is deemed that the symbolic importance of opening China’s low-altitude airspace far exceeds its practical significance, but at least the country has taken its first step. At the moment an overall action plan is lacking in regards to the next steps in the opening of low-altitude airspace; its operability is premature and patience is needed to wait for the relevant government policies to be rolled out.

“It is fine to be expectant but don’t get overly excited,” the CAA insider says.

Fiona Zhi, Senior Business Development Manager from Chapman Freeborn’s Beijing office shares this view:

“The Chinese government has always shown a supportive attitude towards the business aircraft market because it helps to generate tax revenue and drive the development of related infrastructure. However, the lack of airports and many strict restrictions on air routes for non-B-registered aircraft are hindering the development of business aviation in China.”

At the same time, there are very limited resources to service business jets at the existing airports – some small and medium airports have no related facilities and equipment at all. Hence, in terms of business jet utilisation, China has not been able to reach the level as that of the more mature markets. The lack of fixed-based operators (FBO) also limited the use of business jets as a form of efficient and convenient means of transport.

Zhi also says that the current policies in China are largely protective of the domestic business jet operators – this has greatly reduced the competitiveness of foreign operators that have the experience to provide a greater level of service. As a result, domestic operators are unable to improve their level of service to match the world standard.  Consequently, many business jet owners would rather entrust their aircraft to foreign aircraft management companies; they would even fly their aircraft empty overseas to perform cleaning and regular inspections.

Although business aviation in China had a late start, many relevant government departments and related industries are holding high hopes for this sector. Chapman Freeborn also sees much room for growth in Chinese business aviation.

There is certainly more to be done for the development of Chinese business aviation – enhancing infrastructure developments, making quick improvements to the business jets facilities, opening of low-altitude airspace, and refining service standards are critical to the development of business aviation.

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