A Long Journey Into The Future Of Chinese General Aviation

 - April 16, 2014, 7:40 AM

The piston-engine Baron twin and Bonanza single on display at the Beechcraft area of the static display did not arrive by magic or by freighter. The long trip from the factory in Wichita, Kansas, started a few weeks ago, and left the California coast on April 3.

Ferry pilots Chelsea “Abingdon” Welch and Jerry Clark took off from Tracy, California (KTCY) where oversize fuel tanks were installed. The Bonanza held a total of 268 gallons, the Baron about 400. That meant that Welch and Clark were taking off at approximately 30 percent above maximum gross weight.

Clark is co-founder of Windward Aviation, a ferry specialist that flies under contract with Beechcraft. With a long career that includes flying bank checks, freight and jet charter Clark has been performing ferry flights since founding Windward with his partner Robin Leabman in early 2010. Welch flies ferry flights for the adventure of it. Her day job is running Abingdon Company, where she designs and markets aviation watches for women. It’s a half-million-dollar business that she started in 2006.

Clark and Welch flew the Bonanza and Baron from Tracy to Hilo, Hawaii, a trip that took 12 hours, 54 minutes and was the longest leg of the trip without an alternate. They took off from Hilo for American Samoa, the longest leg of the trip in time at 15 hours, 32 minutes. The next stop was Pohnpei, Micronesia, 15 hours, 12 minutes’ flying time; and then Guam, a “short” five hours, 48 minutes away.

The final leg was Guam to Shanghai Hongqaio Airport, 14.5 hours on the wing. That included a hold of an hour and a half for the clearance to enter Chinese airspace to be sorted out. But, Welch said, once inside the country’s airspace, the handling from ATC was excellent. “It was just like flying in the U.S.,” she said, “except that altitude is given in meters, but that wasn’t too hard to figure out.” The arrival marked the first arrival of piston aircraft at the airport in recent memory.

After ABACE the pair will continue to Japan, then to Taiwan where the Bonanza and Baron will be based for owner Pacific China Aero Technology (PCA), an aircraft management and service company based in Beijing. Jessica Wang, executive, GA marketing and sales, said the aircraft are available for sale, if anyone would like to write a check here at ABACE.

PCA has another Bonanza and Baron that will be coming in from Wichita within the next few months, and those will likely be based in mainland China. Wang said PCA believes there is a future for piston aircraft in the region, and the appearance of the Bonanza and Baron is one step in the journey to further stretch the airspace restrictions.

“People will see these airplanes here at ABACE and recognize their potential,” she said. “Possible customers may go back to other regions and ask officials about the possibilities of further expanding airspace.”

The recent move to open up airspace up to 1,000 meters (about 3,200 feet) is a step in the right direction, Wang said, and the appearance of the two piston Beechcraft here at ABACE is another wedge in the move to further expand the utility of light aircraft. She envisions medical flights as a first step, hopefully followed by additional roles as light aircraft become more visible in the region.

Clark said he hopes that he, Welch and other Windward pilots will find themselves retracing these routes on a more regular basis as time goes on.