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UPDATED: January 4, 2015 NO. 2 JANUARY 8, 2015
Ready to Take Off
The aviation sector is looking to spread its wings
By Yin Pumin

Zhang Jian is the general manager of HNA Aviation Academy's marketing department, a subsidiary of HNA Group Co. Ltd. That group is the parent of Hainan Airlines, which operates a network of scheduled domestic and international flights.

The HNA academy, the second-largest flying school in China in terms of training hours, is moving into the private-license training business, but only 5 percent of its trainees have chosen to go that route.

About 130 students will graduate from the school this year, and most of them will work on scheduled flights, Zhang said, adding that the school has not seen a marked increase in general aviation trainees.

Incomes of general aviation pilots are much lower than those of civilian jet pilots who fly for major domestic and international carriers, even though the basic salaries and hourly rates are about the same, said Li Jian, a 25-year-old helicopter pilot, who noted the huge difference in flying hours.

Li has just signed up to fly with a general aviation operator based in north China's Hebei Province. He was an aviation technician before attending a flight school for nine months in the United States.

But the lack of working hours is a problem across China's general aviation industry. The whole industry, with 1,519 aircraft, recorded 591,000 flight hours in 2013, compared with about 25 million hours in the United States, according to the General Aviation Manufacturers Association.

However, Li can expect more time in the air soon, when low-altitude airspace reform will serve as a catalyst for the general aviation sector.

CAAC Deputy Director Wang said China's general aviation flying hours will reach 2 million annually, with more than 5,000 aircraft, by 2020.

"Demand for general aviation is huge and it is a rising industry with great potential," Wang said.

Industrial bases

Since 2012, Faku, a small county in northeast China's Liaoning Province, has gained national renown as a hub for general aviation.

The local government has placed special emphasis on developing related industries, treating them as a pillar of the local economy, and setting an ambitious long-term target to manufacture at least 5,000 aircraft annually.

In August last year, the county hosted the Third Shenyang Faku International Flight Show—the largest air show in north China. The five-day event attracted more than 80 aviation-related enterprises and several aerobatic display teams from China and overseas.

"In the past three years, we have made a huge investment in the general aviation sector, and we won't be satisfied until Faku becomes China's 'light air capital,'" said Li Wenjie, Deputy Director of the Faku General Aviation Industrial Park Management Committee.

Established in 2010, the industrial base, which has a planned area of 68 square km, has worked to attract enterprises involved in aircraft research and development, production of components, maintenance, personnel training, and flight tourism. China's air traffic control authorities have approved the base as the country's first pilot station for low-altitude aviation services, he added.

The county is also home to a small airport, the first in northeast China dedicated solely to general aviation.

"We are definitely one of the few pioneers among local governments to have anticipated the growth of the general aviation sector and to have actively embarked on making that a reality," Li said. "We've been able to reap the rewards while many others are still making plans."

At the August air show, six businesses signed investment agreements with the industrial base. The projects include an amphibious aircraft manufacturing base and a plant to produce light aircraft, and will embrace the entire industry value chain, from development, production, marketing and selling, maintenance and training of personnel, Li said, adding that 37 light aircraft were sold at the show.

Recalling the development path of Faku's aircraft industry, Feng Shouquan, Party chief of Faku, said the sector could enjoy rapid growth because of the close proximity to Shenyang, the provincial capital, which is home to a number of aviation institutes and enterprises, and the county's high entry thresholds for businesses and investment.

"We are determined to transform Faku into the Chinese version of Wichita," Feng said.

Like Faku, more than 100 general aviation industrial bases are already under construction or are close to construction work nationwide, according to Gao Yuanyang, Director of the General Aviation Industry Research Center at Beihang University in Beijing.

In Jingmen in central China's Hubei Province, an airpark funded by the Aviation Industry Corp. of China (AVIC), the nation's leading aircraft maker, is under construction. The park will require investment of almost 10 billion yuan ($1.63 billion) and is projected to take shape before 2019, according to AVIC. It will feature aircraft sales services, pilot training schools, aeronautical service facilities, fliers' clubs, and aviation museums.

Meanwhile, Beijing-based AVIC announced that it will establish 50 airparks across China. AVIC plans to make the parks multifunctional platforms that will serve private pilots, boost aviation businesses, disseminate aeronautical knowledge and culture, and promote creative economy in the aircraft industry, according to Tan Ruisong, General Manager of AVIC.

Email us at: yinpumin@bjreview.com

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