AIN Blog: China Is Making a Big GA Mistake

 - July 6, 2011, 11:49 AM

Now that Caiga has finalized its purchase of Cirrus Aircraft, it is more than abundantly clear that Chinese companies (most owned by the government) are making huge investments in general aviation (GA) infrastructure. But the Chinese government is making a gigantic mistake that will make it difficult for these investments ever to pay off.

A recent report notes that China plans to manage general aviation flying much more strictly than the wild, wild West, where (at least in the U.S.) a pilot can fly whenever and wherever he or she wishes, without government permission. Apparently this is anathema to the Chinese authorities, who can’t fathom the concept of a person being allowed to fly a general aviation airplane without filing a flight plan and receiving permission days in advance.

Note to China: shocking but true, it is still possible to take off in a small airplane and fly from California to New York without filing a flight plan, without talking on the radio and without notifying any government authority. And guess what? Anarchy hasn’t broken out because of these freedoms.

While general aviation in the U.S. is suffering from the impact of the recent recession, a slowdown in the number of new pilots, reduced manufacturing of aircraft and less flying activity, the industry remains a powerful driver of economic activity. The U.S. exports billions of dollars worth of aircraft every year and trains the world’s pilots. And the reason that general aviation is so strong in the U.S. is because the industry was born here and has been building infrastructure for the past 108 years and there are no restrictions on how people can use aircraft.

China is buying a lot of general aviation infrastructure and building a lot of airports, but the government’s continued unwillingness to recognize the benefits of the freedom to fly is going to hobble China’s ability to realize any benefit from buying the likes of Cirrus, Continental Motors, Superior Air Parts and so on. If China is depending on a market like the U.S. to support these investments, that might be questionable, because prospects for general aviation in the U.S. remain shaky. If China really wants to see aviation grow, it is going to have to get over the mentality that spawns stifling restrictions.

Second note to China: if you want to develop a real aviation industry, give freedom a try. Let people learn to fly and fly when and where they want, just like owning and driving a car. You’ll be amazed at what happens: airports will fill with traffic; pilots will buy fuel, supplies and airplanes; cockpits will fill with trained and experienced native-born pilots; entire industries will grow because companies can fly to remote locations easily on their business aircraft; and smart Chinese designers and builders with visions of new designs in their heads will launch a homegrown aviation industry that can compete with the world, without having to go buy struggling companies based in other countries.