China eases handling restrictions

 - October 2, 2006, 6:01 AM

The volume of business aircraft flying into China is continuing to increase. According to the Shanghai airport authority, the number of corporate movements into the country’s main business city has been growing by as much as 15 percent in recent years to reach a total of 1,200 last year.

While the infrastructure and operating procedures in China are still far from ideal, conditions are improving, according to Universal Weather & Aviation director Lex den Herder. According to the U.S.-based flight planning and support group, the country’s top 10 trading partner nations have some 16,000 business aircraft among them. Last year 1,368 foreign corporate flights arrived in China. During the first six months of last year there were 728 flights; in the same period this year there were 904 flights, an increase of 24 percent.

“Ten years ago foreign operators were allowed to enter and leave China through only one location and they had to carry a Chinese navigator. Now this requirement is gone,” den Herder told a group at ABACE. He added that operators used to pay substantial “compensation fees” for every airport visited but now they make only one payment to the Civil Aviation Administration of China. “China has become more flexible,” said den Herder, “but if your flight plan needs to change by more than two hours you still need to get a new permit.”

Chuck Woods, CEO of Macau-based charter operator Jet Asia, pointed out that overflight permits are required throughout Asia.

Gary Xue, Beijing manager for flight planner Air Routing International, told ABACE delegates that operators have to hold pre-assigned arrival and departure slots for flights into China. Overflight and landing requests should be made at least seven days before an operation. Applications also have to include details of a Chinese company that is “sponsoring” the trip. The sponsor’s letter has to be approved by a deputy government minister or the foreign affairs department of a local government.

“The permit process has improved a lot,” said Xue. “Everything used to have to go through full diplomatic channels. Now it is actually easier to get clearance for a corporate flight than for an airline service.”

During the session, Universal’s den Herder outlined a detailed list of facilities and services that visiting business aircraft would like to find in the country. Chinese handling company representatives busily noted down this wish list and were told that U.S. operators wanted to see the improvements sooner rather than later.

But Woods pointed out that China faces a chicken-and-egg dilemma: how can the country justify an investment in infrastructure when levels of business aviation activity are still relatively low? On the other hand, will this category of traffic ever develop if the infrastructure is not there?