Chinese Airspace More Open

 - January 30, 2008, 10:14 AM

Foreign business aircraft operators are enjoying somewhat easier access to Chinese airspace, at least between the country’s major cities. Over the past 12 months, the management of airspace between the capital, Beijing, and the major east coast business cities of Shanghai and Guangzhou has been transferred from military to civil controllers and this has roughly halved the amount of time needed to get airways slots.

According to Joe Chen, manager of Asia Operations Company–Chinese partner of the flight planning group Universal Weather & Aviation–it now takes about seven days for foreign operators to get slots for these routings, compared with the 15 to 20 days that were generally required until last year. However, trips involving visits to multiple cities still take longer to arrange, and much of China’s “inland” airspace remains completely closed to foreign aircraft.

Further changes to Chinese airspace regulations are due to take effect from this month, but, according to Chen, who is a former Chinese air traffic controller, these will apply only to aerial work operations, including agricultural and civil search-and-rescue missions. Some in the business aviation community had imagined and hoped that the new rules might result in further relaxation of access to Chinese airspace, but this does not appear to be in the pipeline.

In addition to an airways slot, foreign operators also need to get landing and overflight permits. These are requested through the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC), which still reports to the Chinese air force. According to Universal’s Beijing-based representative, these procedures have generally become much more routine and less time-consuming to arrange for foreign operators. The process is significantly more straightforward for Chinese business aircraft operators, including the country’s growing number of executive charter providers.

Universal international operations specialist Jimmy Young told AIN that generally China has become a more user-friendly environment for foreign flight departments in recent years. “You have to remember that permits used to take 30 to 60 days to arrange and flights had to carry a Chinese navigator,” he pointed out. CAAC has also reduced and rationalized the fee structure. Previously, Chinese authorities charged around $3,000 for each airport used by a foreign operator; now the country levies a single trip fee based on an aircraft’s size.

Young, who is a Taiwanese American, works closely with the Asia Operations Company to plan all aspects of Universal clients’ Chinese trips. “Everything used to be a much bigger headache because, for example, crews could not apply for their visas until they had received permission for the flight itself, but now things are definitely getting easier,” he concluded.