China aviation authorities are believed to be in the final stages of their next step in an airspace redesign that could begin to roll out in early 2014.
Whether that rollout will further liberalize airspace – as industry leaders hope – remains to be seen. But industry leaders are encouraged by positive indications that China will continue to move to encourage an expansion of general aviation.
China is slowly liberalizing airspace, beginning at very low altitudes of 1,000 meters. Flights above 1,000 meters remain limited to certain routes that are largely dictated by the Chinese military.
The nation also recently lifted a requirement to obtain advance flight mission clearance for many general aviation flights. In late November, Chinese authorities released a document discussing that change. The document, which had not been officially translated into English, indicated that general aviation operators would still need to file flight plans and still need approvals for flights in certain places, such as border areas and prohibited zones.
General aviation advocates were encouraged by the change, saying it is a positive step in fostering growth of general aviation in the nation. “This development is the latest in a series of encouraging signs that China is committed to the industry’s growth,” National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) President Ed Bolen said, adding the changes should encourage additional investment in general aviation in China. “We hope to see further enhanced flexibility for GA operations, as the government gains comfort with the industry and becomes more aware of its future growth potential,” he adds.
Chinese civil aviation authorities have been clearly indicating a desire to lay the groundwork for growth, says Ed Smith, senior vice president, international and environmental affairs for the General Aviation Manufacturers Association. “A lot is going on in China regarding the promotion of Chinese aviation,” Bolen adds. “The details are not always immediate, but the trends are all moving in a positive direction.”
Airspace flexibility is one key to true growth of the industry along with the numbers forecast, industry leaders agree. And key to that flexibility is whether the Chinese military will be willing to give Chinese civil aviation authorities a little more control over the airspace.
The latest document easing the pre-departure approval requirements points to such a willingness. But at the same time some leaders are watching other moves, such as the recent imposition of an Air Defense Identification Zone (ADIZ) over the East China Sea, and question whether that may slow any liberalization effort. Others, however, view the ADIZ as a territorial dispute and do not believe it is relevant to efforts involving general aviation within the country.
Smith notes that the current reforms, covering flights of 1,000 meters and below, are still fairly restrictive and benefit only a few operations, such as those involving helicopters, emergency flights and flight training.
But a reclassification of airspace “could have a great impact,” says General Aviation Manufacturers Association President and CEO Pete Bunce. The timing of the reclassification is unclear, but he says indications are that it could happen over the next several months.
Equally unclear are the plans for the reclassification and whether they will be significant reforms or create limited patchworks of liberalization. “It’s very hard to see what it will look like,” he says. But for the general aviation to grow, it has to be able to better connect locations within the country.
“General aviation airplanes and helicopters are uniquely suited to bring the benefits of rapid access to medical care, as well as economic growth and prosperity to more people, but they need accessible airspace and sufficient infrastructure to do this effectively,” Bunce says.