By Mary Grady, Contributing editor
Chinese authorities said last week they plan to open up nearly one-third of the country's airspace to general aviation flights next year, on a trial basis. Starting in January, airspace below 1,000 meters in northeastern, central, and southern China will be open, as well as the airspace above six pilot cities, according to China Daily. The new policy aims to stimulate the sales and use of private aircraft. Currently, private flights in China are hampered by the need for prior approvals that are complex and time-consuming.
The move "signals China's determination to boost general aviation as its strategic new industry," Chen Yilong, one of the country's first private jet owners, told Xinhua. "Every Chinese nouveau riche who tries to fly has had illegal 'black flying' experiences. The news of expanding low-altitude airspace makes us excited and relieved." Chen said he was able to gain official approvals to fly his jet for only 2.5 hours in all of 2010. Aviation infrastructure is also scarce, but with easier access to airspace, more investment in airports and fuel facilities is expected. At the recent AOPA China Summit held in Beijing, government officials expressed a strong interest in developing the GA industry in China over the next five to 10 years. The country also has shown a strong interest in acquiring GA companies, buying up Cirrus, Teledyne Continental Motors, and several smaller manufacturers in recent years. Last month, AVweb's Glenn Pew spoke with Jason Liao, the founder and CEO of China Business Aviation Group, who believes China could become the world's largest market for business aviation by 2018. Listen to that interview here.