Flying In China -- Illegally

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In China it may not always be easy -- or legal -- to fly a general aviation aircraft, but a very small, very select group of Chinese are doing it anyway. There are an estimated 1,000 registered private aircraft in all of China. Among that group, there is a tiny subset of wealthy individuals that chooses to bypass protocol altogether. According to the New York Times, such pilots are called "black fliers" (think "black ops") for their habit of taking flight on the sly. "It's like this -- your family, your wife, won't let you go out and pick up girls. But you went out and did it anyway," Guan Hongsheng, told the Times. "Secret flying is like secret love. You do it, you don't tell people about it." How it works is easy, if imprudent, enough. But not all of the unapproved flights end without consequence.

Seeking approval for a legitimate private flight plan in China can take days. Even receiving permission to land after that flight plan has been approved can be a challenge, according to the Times. One source the paper spoke with said most clandestine flights are relatively short hops in helicopters and offered the simple example of a treetop-level flight between a mansion and a golf course. But there are complex examples that lead to more complex outcomes. "Black Flight" pilots have been the targets of UFO sightings in China, and one unapproved flight over an airport last July disrupted commercial jet traffic. Some pilots, including Guan Hongsheng, have been apprehended for their illegal flights. Penalties have so far been fines that Guan Hongsheng says he's been able to talk down from about $15,000 to about $3,000.