China is hoping to break the stereotype of general aviation (GA) as a luxury tool and further promote its use in areas like medical services and transport. Fan Huitao, member of the Chinese Academy of Engineering and a member of the government’s National People Congress (NPC), told reporters that GA would be an economic growth point in China, just like the automobile industry.
Fan said compared to developed countries like the United States, which has a landmass similar to China's, the utility for GA is still very low and there is a huge potential in China to fill in the gap. The average flying hours in the United States is at about 30 million hours annually; in China, however, it is at around 941,000 hours. In fact, according to the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC), the numbers slid in February to 35,000 hours, down 33.9 percent year on year.
He highlighted that areas of development include agricultural and forestry inspections, which cannot be effectively done by satellite technology. China has about 2 million sq km of forest, the inland water body area exceeds 100,000 square km of water bodies, 400,000 km of rivers, and oil and gas pipelines exceeding 100,000 km, all of which can be surveyed by aircraft and helicopters.
With the growing rate of road accidents in China, air medical services stands as another area of potential for the world’s second largest road network. Fan hopes China develops an emergency rescue system like that in the U.S., where victims of a casualty can reach any emergency center within one hour, and urge urban planners to factor such facilities and accessibility in their urban masterplans.
While Fan thinks that there is still some distance away from China’s grand plan of building 500 GA airports and clocking 2 million annual flight hours by 2020, he suggests that China’s low-level airspace should be decentralized into provincial/local airspace for specific general aviation activities, and let the local government promote and develop its own GA infrastructure and industry.
Similarly, he also thinks that the government should promote education and training for aviation-related careers such as pilots, air traffic controllers, and these efforts should be channeled through the respective provincial governments.