Longtime readers of WiC will recall that China’s richest village is Huaxi (see issue 27), where per capita income is seven times the national average. When you’ve got it, flaunt it, as they say. The South China Morning Post reports that the villagers are planning to buy 20 private planes and train 100 local residents to be pilots.
Their aviation purchase comes in the wake of a significant change to the way China manages its airspace. Historically, the military has tightly controlled the skies making it tough for private aircraft to operate. But in an effort to boost the local aviation industry, the government has opened up low-altitude airspace to helicopters and low-flying planes.
Hence the entrepreneurial folk of Huaxi plan to move into airborne tourism. The villagers already have two helicopters and plan to charge up to Rmb500 to fly wealthy tourists around their local landmark, the Golden Pagoda.
Currently, China has only 200 private aircraft, according to official estimates. That pales in comparison to the more than 100,000 private jets buzzing US skies.
“Some of my super rich friends cannot wait to buy a private plane,” Deng Bin, owner of a private plane club in Chengdu, Sichuan, told the Shanghai Daily. “They have placed orders to put them under trusteeship in my general aviation base, which is under construction.”
Up till now enthusiasts have had a tough time getting airborne – that’s because they had to apply for flight approvals three weeks in advance. That made it less convenient than travelling on commercial flights – hardly the point of having your own set of wings.
But the newly published regulations will reduce restrictions below 1,000 metres, making it easier to fly aircraft types likes Cessnas – a move that’s also likely to encourage more locals to train as pilots.
Then again, larger business jets – those that fly at altitudes above 4,000 metres – will continue to face restrictions.
Still, the China Daily excitedly predicts the reforms will “unleash pent-up demand for private air services and create a market worth more than Rmb1 trillion”. Sinolink Securities forecasts 2,300 light fixed wing aircraft selling within a decade.
The Financial Times sees the move as part of a broader industrial policy: “The decision is a signal that China intends to develop its domestic helicopter and light aircraft industry quickly, in tandem with its ambitious large aircraft production programme.”
China has lofty visions for its aerospace industry. Indeed, in the same week as the government released airspace for private planes, the state-owned Commercial Aircraft Corp (Comac) signed deals with a number of state-controlled airlines to deliver 100 of its C919 jets. That 160-seat aircraft is a first step in the company’s long-term plan to compete with Boeing and Airbus.
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