Published: 18:05, February 4, 2020 | Updated: 08:20, June 6, 2023
Demand powering growth in nation's civil aviation industry
By Zhu Wenqian

A Kodiak 100 airplane of SkyView Aircraft is displayed at the Asian Business Aviation Conference & Exhibition at Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport on April 16, 2019. (GAO ERQIANG / CHINA DAILY)

Burgeoning consumer demand in the general aviation sector for business travel, flight sightseeing tours and individual entertainment flying will keep growing in the years ahead, and that demand is expected to drive the growth of the general aviation sector in China.

Last year, the flying hours in general aviation reached 1.13 million hours, rising 13.8 percent year-on-year. Most flying hours comprise flight training, short-distance transportation, and general aviation tasks such as law enforcement and medical assistance, according to the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC).

The consumer market of general aviation should be the backbone and most attractive segment of general aviation in China

Gao Yuanyang, Professor at Beihang University

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Some flying sports such as parachute jumping, stunt flying, hot balloon rides, and gliders have become increasingly popular, particularly among thrill-seeking Chinese consumers.

The market scale of the sector has reached 200 billion yuan (US$29.15 billion), said the General Administration of Sport of China.

"Those flying sports have relatively low thresholds and costs, and the public will get easy access to them. We should build more flying sports venues at professional fields, general aviation airports, scenic spots, urban parks and schools," said Lei Yin, deputy director of the industrial development department at the General Administration of Sport of China.

"By providing richer consumer products and lowering the bar of flying sports to attract more people to engage in the sport, it can help drive the development of the general aviation sector," he said.

China aims to ultimately build 20,000 flying venues, according to a statement on speeding up the development of sports consumption that was released by the State Council in 2014. China has developed more homemade flying equipment and related vocational training and personnel to support the growth of flying sports.

Last year, there were 246 certified general aviation airports nationwide and the number exceeded that of commercial airports in October, the CAAC said.

The government said it will encourage and attract private investment to help build more general aviation airports to provide more comprehensive services such as public transportation and social services.

This year, the authorities concerned will further lower the institutional costs of the operation of general aviation companies and support the construction of more general aviation airports in urban clusters with high market demand. This includes areas such as the Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei region, the Yangtze River Delta, and the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area.

The further growth of the general aviation sector also requires speeding up the process of opening low-altitude airspace, more general aviation airports, and a good flying environment, industry experts explained.

"For long, the limited number of general aviation airports and inadequate support facilities have been one of the restrictive factors that hampered the growth of the general aviation sector," said Lin Zhijie, an aviation industry analyst and columnist at Carnoc, one of China's largest civil aviation websites.

"The attraction of private investments into the general aviation sector needs not only the encouragement of government policies, but profit incentives," he said.

Separately, the middle-and high-end tourism market in China has yet to be developed fully.

For most scenic spots such as mountains, canyons and resorts in the country, travelers need to drive for about two to three hours from the closest airports. The government could build more general aviation airports near those places so travelers can take helicopters to those areas, industry experts suggested.

"The consumer market of general aviation should be the backbone and most attractive segment of general aviation in China. We should further stimulate the general aviation consumer market. It will also be the breakthrough point for the growth of the industry," said Gao Yuanyang, a professor at Beihang University.

At this time, the United States has around 20,000 general aviation airports and more than 70 percent of general aviation aircraft globally are delivered to the US, data from the Qianzhan Institute for Industrial Research showed.

A sightseeing tour aboard a helicopter is quite common in the US. At the Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, travelers can take a 30-minute helicopter flight from the nearby city of Las Vegas, while driving there takes about four hours and 30 minutes.

Travelers to the Grand Canyon can also take helicopter tours for a bird's-eye view of the spectacular scene from the air. More than half a million visitors take the helicopter tours annually, the national park said.

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On the other hand, the number of registered unmanned aircraft reached 392,000 in China last year and their commercial flying time reached 1.25 million hours, the CAAC said.

"Heavy-load unmanned helicopters that have high performance and reliability are in severe shortage. Sectors such as emergency fire fighting and rescue, military transportation, and civil logistics will have high demand for such helicopters and there is ample room for growth," Wang Qiang, a researcher of unmanned flying systems at Beihang University, said.

"We need to put in more investments in research and development, and self-develop more heavy-load, highly cost-efficient, unmanned helicopters with independent intellectual property rights."