Business aviation operators headed to China's showcase city now can choose between two airports.
The Military Owns the Sky
Operating in China is straightforward and with unwaveringly ICAO procedures. The country is fully RVSM-compliant and partially WGS 84-compliant, as the Chinese are still surveying the country. According to Jeppesen, Shanghai falls within the territory that has been surveyed, so operators using synthetic vision systems, the databases of which are WGS 84-referenced, as approach aids at Pudong will now break out aligned with the assigned runway instead of displaced 100 meters to one side as has been the case.
QNH altimetry applies in all of China's population centers but defaults to QFE at the more remote locations.
Understandable English is spoken at most larger locations, Chinese in the remoter areas (hence the need to have a local navigator aboard when heading that way, as detailed further on.)
Since China operates on the metric system and has incorporated it into its RVSM system, it is recommended that flight crews have a specific altitudes chart in their cockpits for Chinese RVSM. Crews “should be able to think in metric,” one pilot advised, and understand that they will receive their altimeter settings in meters.
Visiting operators should be aware that, due to the Chinese airways structure,enforces a restriction against arrivals from and departures to the east and northeast, and all aircraft arriving from those directions between 2300Z and 1500Z (0700 to 2300 local) must go to Pudong. This also applies to traffic coming out of Japan. During the peak period of 0800 to 2200 local, each airport restricts general aviation to 10 movements (i.e., ten slots).
“A lot of the domestic routes are confined to the airlines, and ATC generally will not give business aviation direct routings,” Young said. “Pilots have complained about this. Airspace remains controlled by the military, while ATC functions are provided by CAAC.” There are now between 10 and 15 domestic airlines operating in China. For domestic flights within China by visiting business aircraft, local navigators (most of whom are airline pilots) must be on board, and the operator is required to pay their salaries and expenses while they are traveling with the aircraft.
There are fixed gateways into the country, with two coming in from Anchorage and one from Russia. Operators should not expect to do area nav or direct routing. Flying from Shanghai to Beijing or into China's more remote areas requires special permission and a sponsor who can vouch for the visiting operator. As China harbors only 500 airports, many of them military fields, the authorities want to know you're coming.
And forget about flying direct in China, one pilot we talked with advised. “You have to do very careful flight planning and understand that you will not get the range you normally get in the U.S. because (1) you cannot file direct, (2) you quite often will not get the altitudes you want — you might have to fly lower altitudes — and (3) your alternates might be 200 mi. apart, as there are very few airports in China.”
The People's Liberation Army (PLA) commands China's airspace and controls its ATC apparatus through CAAC, deciding when and where civil aircraft may roam. “The whole country is a military zone with airways carved out within it,” Brad Perrett, Aviation Week & Space Technology's Beijing bureau chief, observed. “The airspace belongs to the military, but that is changing. It used to take days to get a clearance to operate. Now it takes only 12 hr. to get one, if there is space on the airways.”
Ground support at Shanghai airports is generally good, but operators are cautioned to accept that everything will take longer than it does in the West. Also, being parked far away from the terminal, it will take longer to get to the aircraft. Arranging catering takes longer. It is recommended that crews show up at the airport a minimum of 2 hr. early. On the other hand, fueling is not a problem, and operators may even have a choice of suppliers. However, understand that you will get the same treatment you would if you were an airline.
Not surprisingly, within the PRC, maintenance facilities for business jets are essentially nonexistent (Hong Kong is a different story). If something goes wrong that disables the aircraft, the operator will have to rely on the AOG support provided by the aircraft's manufacturer. Many operators bring a mechanic with them; parts have to be shipped in for a breakdown.
And make sure your CFO or, if you're a charter operator, your customers know that operating in the PRC is expensive, as there are fees for everything. First, entering China with the intention to land triggers the “China Compensation Fee,” which is assessed to non-mainland-registered aircraft (so Hong Kong operators must pay it, too), of $3,000. Charter operators get hit even harder with “reimbursement fees” for equivalent air fares that can run as high as $6,000 for Gulfstream-class aircraft.
Then there are terminal, or “channel,” fees. At any port of entry, the price is 10,000 RNB, or $1,463, for each movement in and out. For a domestic leg, the charge is 8,000 RNB, or $1,170. Over-flight and landing fees are high, as well, since the lowest weight from which the government calculates them is that of a. And finally, navigation charges apply, as well — good old user fees — assessed by the nautical mile. China trips can average $2,000 per flight hour in fees alone. To avoid uncomfortable surprises, it is recommended that operators have their handlers obtain quotes beforehand.