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.)

Business Aviation Activity Increasing

As Deng's capitalist reforms deepened in the ensuing three decades and business relationships were formed with companies from abroad, ever more corporate jets from North and South America and Europe began to visit China. According to Jimmy Young, a flight planner and handler for Universal Weather and Aviation who is based in the PRC, there were close to 3,000 general aviation flights in and out of Shanghai alone in 2010, increasing to 3,400 movements last year, an indication of steady growth in business aviation traffic even during the current recession. In addition, “there are a lot of domestic operators based at Shanghai now,” Young said recently, “like Deer Jet, Air China [an airline that manages a half dozen locally based business jets] and BAA out of Hong Kong.”

Further, thanks largely to the world expo that ran for six months in 2010 at Shanghai, attracting some 73 million people, there are now two destination airports available to business aviation at the city, both designated as ports of entry and equipped with ground support facilities: Shanghai Pudong International Airport (ZSPD) and Hongqiao (ZSSS, pronounced “HongCHOW”). Expecting an influx of foreign business jets for the expo and seeing a need for ATC to separate commercial and general aviation traffic, shunting the latter to Hongqiao, hitherto mostly reserved for domestic airline operations, planners elected to invest millions of yuan-renminbi (or RNBs, China's currency) in redeveloping the airport. This took the form of laying down a second runway and entering into a joint venture with Hawker Pacific to establish an executive-level FBO at the airport, which opened in time for the show.

“It is a full-service facility with hangars and MRO services for the Hawker 4000, in-house CIQ [customs, immigration and quarantine], all very similar to Western facilities,” Young said. Hongqiao is the original airport at Shanghai, its origins dating from 1923 (built on the remains of an earlier military field commissioned in 1907). When Shanghai Pudong International opened in 1999, most international traffic was transferred from Hongqiao to the new airport; however, with completion of the Hawker Pacific FBO, the Civil Aviation Authority of China (CAAC) allowed international general aviation and a handful of international airlines to use the field again. “Business aviation operators are now using it as a better alternative to Pudong,” Young said.

While there's no FBO at Pudong, the big airport does host a VIP lounge, a common facility at PRC airports, constructed for the use of government officials. No parking is available at the VIP terminal, requiring passengers and crew to be bused to the lounge, which can take as long as 30 min. depending on where ground control directs the aircraft to park. “At Hongqiao, of course, there is parking right in front of the Hawker Pacific FBO,” Young said. Not surprisingly, then, Hongqiao has become more popular than Pudong as a business aviation destination. “Also, the in-house CIQ is a popular attraction to the airport,” Young pointed out, “which additionally is located only 20 min. from Shanghai's downtown business area by surface transportation.”

The Hongqiao Airport Authority claims business aviation traffic is currently divided 55/45 between Hongqiao and Pudong. A large proportion of that traffic represents domestic operators, Young clarified. As an indication of the airport's growing popularity, the NBAA's Asian Business Aviation Conference and Exposition (ABACE) will be held at Hongqiao next month.

Hongqiao (ZSSS) has parallel runways, 18L/36R and 18R/36L, both measuring 11,155 ft. Elevation is 10 ft. The fourth busiest airport in China and a hub for four domestic airlines, Hongqiao handled more than 31 million passengers in 2010, a 25% increase over 2009. In its preparation for the world expo, more than 15 billion RNB were invested in Hongqiao's upgrades, including the new second runway.

Shanghai Pudong (XSPD) now has three runways as its share of the world expo largesse, 16/34, 12,467 ft.; 17L/35R, 13,123 ft.; and 17R/35L, 11,155 ft. Its elevation is 13 ft. With domestic airlines now confined to Hongqiao, Pudong is exclusively international. XSPD served more than 40.5 million passengers in 2010. Its master plan calls for the construction of a third passenger terminal, a satellite terminal and two additional runways by 2015.

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, CAAC 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 Boeing 737. 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.

A Word From Our Sponsor

Crew and passengers must have visas to enter China; lead time for obtaining them for U.S. operators can be as little as a day for passengers and two to three business days for crewmembers. (And of course, a visa for Taiwan is not a visa for China.) It is mandatory that the operator have a sponsoring letter from a local company or host. Landing permits are not required for U.S. operators.

“You can request multiple entries good for six months,” Young said. “The single entry is good for seven days or longer if you show them your itinerary.” If the crew is traveling into the country via airline, each crewmember will have to obtain either a tourist or business visa to get in, but if then flying out on the company jet, a crew visa will also be necessary.

For applicants from other countries, requirements may differ; for example, applying from India requires landing permission.

“At smaller airports, especially those controlled by the military, you will have to have strong local government sponsorship, which must be submitted to CAAC with a military approval,” Young said.

The importance of sponsor letters cannot be overemphasized, so much so, Young insisted, that it has become difficult for business aviation OEMs to conduct aircraft demonstrations in multiple cities. “There is a new requirement that if you want to fly to more than five cities, you must have a sponsor letter for each city,” Young said. “CAAC wants a strict schedule of flights. They believe that this heightened activity causes congestion in the airways system; thus, they want to restrict the number of demo flights. They see this activity as 'low priority.' For the most part, CAAC is still treating general aviation like the airlines and lacks the infrastructure or flexibility to manage all these aircraft or to accommodate changes in schedule.”

Shanghai is a safe place to visit if sensible big-city precautions are taken. The Chinese people are friendly, helpful and welcoming, but don't expect the average person on the street to understand or speak English; however, the public-contact people at airports and hotels are generally fluent. Major luxury hotels are represented in the Pudong district, and surface transportation is good and plentiful. One of the world's few magnetic levitation trains connects the downtown with Shanghai Pudong Airport. A tour through the old section of the city is an experience rich in culture and architecture. And don't miss the Shanghai Museum to complete your mini-education of this intriguing city. BCA