Region VII: Middle East/Asia (MID)

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China Prepares to Open its Skies to GA

April 15, 2013

Hear an NBAA Flight Plan interview with Jason Liao, NBAA's representative in Asia about the next greatest opportunity – business aviation.

The Chinese government is preparing to open up the airspace under 1,000 meters to general aviation (GA) traffic in May. That milestone precedes the planned opening of airspace under 3,000 meters within the next two years, according to Jason Liao, NBAA’s chief representative in Asia and chairman and CEO of the China Business Aviation Group.

“The whole country is looking at business aviation as the next greatest opportunity available. They’re very excited to have this opportunity,” he said.

The opening of China’s airspace has been a gradual effort, fraught with starts and stops. The government is extremely safety-minded, Liao said. Any incidents must be carefully analyzed, and lessons must be learned. Even so, the experimental relinquishment of airspace by military authorities to civil aviation officials in China continues as the nation scrambles to meet the anticipated demand. Currently, said Liao, approximately one-third of the nation’s low-altitude airspace is open to at least some forms of general aviation.

“China is building 10 to 15 new airports a year,” Liao said. The country also is spending money renovating existing airports and building new business-aviation facilities.

As the nation rapidly builds GA infrastructure, China’s manufacturers continue to gear up for an expected general aviation boom, Liao said. The government continues to foster the development of a general aviation manufacturing industry, while the industry moves products from the concept stage to design and manufacturing.

“These are very exciting times,” Liao said, and not just for Chinese entrepreneurs, operators and manufacturers.

“This is a good time to get into the business for people from outside of China. Find a company that needs a pilot, or a maintenance technician or a dispatcher,” he suggested. “Often, they [a Chinese employer] will help you obtain transportation to China.”

The number of pilots is beginning to grow rapidly, Liao observed. He predicted business aviation in China will grow 20 to 25 percent over the next decade.

While the number of business aircraft is still low compared to the U.S. and other countries, Liao said, his own studies indicate the fleet is comprised of young, high-value aircraft and is growing fast. Of the 350 or so business aircraft he estimates are flying in greater China now, the average worth is approximately $33 million – three times the worth of the average business aircraft.

“It’s not a big number of aircraft, but these are some of the most advanced aircraft in the world,” Liao said.

So who in China will be buying GA aircraft?

“Now, that aviation is coming closer to people’s daily lives, they realize they can have an aircraft for maybe $120,000 to $350,000,” Liao said. “In China, for a lot of people, that’s not too expensive. Suddenly, [using GA] is becoming a real possibility.”