Business aviation operators headed to China's showcase city now can choose between two airports.
Of all of China's teeming cities, Shanghai has probably had the greatest exposure to the West.
Dating from the earliest contacts by seaborne explorers making landfall on China's east coast, Shanghai has been the go-to location for conducting business in China. A stroll through the former “Shanghai International Settlement” — the so-called “Bund” — along the western bank of the Huangpu River reveals the impact of Western incursion into China during the 19th century: a parade of elaborately ornate trading houses and consulates of major foreign nations (including the U.S.) situated chock-a-block with banks, hotels and the city's stately clock-towered Customs House.
Unable to defend themselves against the military power of Western nations at the time, the Chinese were forced to accept the presence of foreign legations on their soil who were there to carve up China's resources. This, plus the damaging results of the opium trade (dominated by the British Empire, which promoted the addiction of millions of Chinese to create a market for the drug) led to a deep sense of humiliation that ultimately culminated with the Marxist revolution and takeover by the late Mao Zedong following World War II and the closing of the country to Western influences.
But with the success of the late Vice Premier Deng Xiaoping's daring introduction of free-market reforms into China's communist economy in the late 1970s, the People's Republic of China has emerged as the world's second largest economy (predicted to eclipse the U.S. in the next two decades), catapulting Shanghai from the shadows of a turbulent and often difficult past into preeminence as the nation's principal finance and business center. (Much of this economic growth occurred in the 1990s; Deng died in 1998.) Currently the largest city by population in the world — a staggering 23 million people, or more than 9,000 per square mile — Shanghai has been groomed by the PRC as the nation's showplace city, its cluster of gleaming skyscrapers in the newly developed Pudong district across the Huangpu from the Bund ranking among the tallest in the world.
Today, business aviation is a work in progress in the PRC, both in terms of indigenous, or based, business aircraft and infrastructure to support visiting private and chartered jets. The first known penetration of the old Cold War-era “Bamboo Curtain” by a business aircraft occurred in the early 1970s when a Gulfstream II operated by the now-defunct Kaiser Industries of Oakland, Calif., and captained by Ron Guerra was allowed to enter Chinese airspace on a flight to China's capital city, Beijing. (With the breakup of Kaiser Industries in the early 1980s, Guerra and other pilots in the conglomerate's flight department engineered an MBO of Kaiser's aviation assets and founded the KaiserAir charter/management company that remains active at Oakland International Airport.)