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Big growth expected in general aviation

2015-03-30 09:35 China Daily Web Editor: Si Huan
An image of a DA-40 light aircraft produced by Binao Diamond Aircraft in Shandong province. (Photo/Provided to China Daily)

An image of a DA-40 light aircraft produced by Binao Diamond Aircraft in Shandong province. (Photo/Provided to China Daily)

China will need about 10,000 light aircraft within the next five years to accommodate the general aviation sector's rapid expansion, an industry insider said.

"This is not a daydream. The number is forecast based on our market calculation. The light aircraft is something like the private car - 15 years ago, most Chinese people dared not believe they would have one or more, but it has now become common in Chinese families," said Pan Linwu, executive vice-president of AVIC International Holding Corp.

"The nation is witnessing the takeoff of the general aviation industry, which always begins with light aircraft because they form the largest part of the global general aviation fleet," he said. "Every student pilot starts by flying light aircraft that are usually powered by piston engines."

General aviation refers to all civil aviation operations other than scheduled air services, and ranges from helicopters to private jets.

Despite general aviation news in China being dominated by expensive private jets, it is light aircraft that conduct most general aviation flights, said Pan, who is also vice-chairman of Continental Motors Group, one of the world's largest manufacturers of piston engines for aircraft.

"Light aircraft are mainly used in flight training academies in China, but in the near future, we expect them to seize the short trip market, which is very suitable for small planes," he said.

Light aircraft will facilitate trips in mountainous or lake areas, he added. That's significant because building railways and highways are costly in such places because of the terrain. By contrast, paving a simple runway doesn't require large investment, and the engineering work is easy, he said.

"It is a common practice abroad that large jetliners transport passengers to a hub airport in a major city, and then light planes take them to nearby destinations," Pan said.

The company has formed a partnership with Civil Aviation University of China, the largest user of its diesel piston engines in China, to cooperate in the field. The university has 60 light aircraft for training students.

"It is possible that people who have studied flying at the university or other flight schools will buy piston engine-powered light aircraft once they want to own an aircraft, because they know the plane is convenient and cheap to use," Pan said.

Having realized the importance and potentially lucrative prospects for the general aviation industry, local governments and Aviation Industry Corp of China, the country's leading aircraft maker, have begun to allocate huge resources to the sector.

According to Gao Yuanyang, director of the general aviation industry research center at Beihang University in Beijing, more than 100 general aviation industrial parks are under construction or will soon start to be built across the country.

AVIC also announced last year that it would establish 50 general aviation airparks around the nation. The first will be in Jingmen of Hubei province and is expected to take shape before 2019.

By the end of 2013, the United States, which has about 300,000 general aviation aircraft in operation, had at least 24,000 airports and landing points capable of handling traffic at some level. By comparison, China had just 1,654 general aviation aircraft and 399 airports and landing points dedicated to such aircraft on the mainland, according to information provided by the industry.

The limited airspace for civil aviation, rigid registration rules and a shortage of pilots and support personnel must be addressed before the industry can get strong, said Wu Guanghui, deputy general manager of Commercial Aircraft Corp of China.

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