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Travel to China Growing, but Still Challenging
Atlanta, GA, October 20, 2010
The first Western business jet landed in China more than three decades ago, and this week's announcement that local authorities have begun to free up more airspace for general aviation has experts optimistic that the heretofore restrictive aviation operating environment there will soon improve. However, flying in the rapidly growing Asian region is still full of operational challenges for business aircraft, and any improvements will be incremental, according to a panel of eight experts who spoke at the NBAA Convention.
China's burgeoning economy, now the world's second largest, has many foreign companies salivating at the prospect of doing business there, but those knowledgeable about the country agree that the on-demand air travel capability needed to move people and resources at "the pace of business" is not yet a reality in China.
Regulatory approval for business flights usually takes at least a couple of days, and the barriers to private air travel between cities can seem overwhelming. Besides obvious concerns about access to airports and airspace, there also are questions about the insurability of company aircraft flying in the country, the availability of maintenance support, and the quality and timeliness of ground support services, general aviation facilities and emergency medical care.
Robyn B. Cicero, FAA's country desk officer for North Asia, said the greatest impediment for business aircraft operating in China is a lack of general aviation (GA) infrastructure. China has a number of commercial airports, but they are congested, with few slots available for business aircraft. In addition, ATC procedures are not designed to handle smaller aircraft. Regulatory oversight is also a concern, as China reportedly has only has 250 people dedicated to such duties.
Chris Buchholz, Universal Weather & Aviation's president, Asia Pacific, was one of several speakers who detailed the myriad challenges of flying in China. Frequent delays, numerous operating restrictions, high user fees, a limited number of fixed base operators and maintenance providers, a scarcity of secondary airports, the absence of any airfields in smaller cities, and the limited availability of high-service supplementary lift inhibit travel in the region. Buchholz urged any company planning to fly to China to plan ahead to deal with logistical challenges, which include the need to obtain a sponsor letter from local partner. He also suggested enlisting the help of support service providers with extensive local knowledge.
Companies that are considering using local charter operators to meet their travel requirements wonder if these service providers can meet world-class standards for safety, service, reliability and responsiveness. Jeff Lee, IBM's director of flight operations, offered a sample checklist of requirements that would need to be met by regional service providers to give established aircraft operators the confidence to take their executives throughout the region, either in their company aircraft or via a charter airplane.
Despite all the concerns, Jason Liao, vice chairman of Asian Business Aviation Association (AsBAA), is optimistic. He predicts that China will soon be the second-largest market for business aviation, which means there will be opportunities for companies that provide aircraft management, training, maintenance, spares/logistics and FBO services.
Earlier this week, NBAA and AsBAA announced plans for the reintroduction of the Asian Business Aviation Conference & Exhibition (ABACE). The event, which will be held annually beginning in 2012 at the Hongqiao Airport in Shanghai, China, marks the much-anticipated return of the first and most successful trade show in Asia dedicated solely to business aviation.