China Prepares To Relax Airspace Restrictions

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Reports from China Friday state that authorities there have approved guidelines to reform low-altitude airspace management over the next five to 10 years with the goal of encouraging the development of general aviation. Under the guidelines, low altitude is defined by airspace below 1,000 meters (general aviation advocates had pushed for a 3,000-meter boundary). The reform would provide non-military aircraft access to that airspace with relaxed restrictions. Other than on specified commercial routes, non-military and non-airline flights over mainland China are otherwise controlled by the air force. Shanghai Securities News reported that the new guidelines call for two trial flight control zones to "be deepened," first -- one near Shenyang and one near Guangzhou -- followed by a staged nationwide rollout of low-altitude airspace reform beginning in 2011. Details about precisely how pilots would gain access to the airspace, and through what governing body, are still scarce, and there are lingering skeptics among the hopeful.

So far observers expect to see relaxed flight regulations in the defined low-altitude zones, but just how relaxed remains to be seen. No one is expecting the new guidelines to allow unrestricted unannounced access to low-altitude airspace. And the exact procedures for access, including the time involved in preparing a request, is yet unknown. Also unknown is what entity would review and approve flight plans and oversee expanded low-altitude general aviation operations. Still, industry insiders quoted by Shanghai Securities News hoped the new guidelines would help usher in a landmark transformation for general aviation in China. According to one source (Hurun Rich List) quoted by China.org.cn, economic conditions in China over the past several decades have created roughly 875,000 native millionaires and more than 15 percent of them hope to buy a private aircraft.