Planet China

Cleared for take-off

“Please refuel with number 97 gasoline,” may not sound like the most extraordinary request. But for pump attendant Ma Rui it was far from normal practice. As Ma told Western China Metropolis Daily, it wasn’t a car driver who was asking for fuel, but an airline pilot. Earlier this month, a propeller plane landed on Liaoning Avenue in Sichuan’s Beichuan county, and taxied into Ma’s petrol station. The pilots asked Ma to fill up their tank. He added 26 litres at a cost of Rmb194 ($31.07). “I was dumbfounded,” Ma told the newspaper. “I have been working here for five years and I have never heard of a petrol station refuelling a plane. It was amazing.”

Perhaps the episode illustrates a growing appetite for private flights in China, as the military slowly opens up airspace to more of its domestic aviation industry. For example, Faku near Shenyang has been declared an experimental zone and aspires to become the country’s ‘light air capital” – the target is to be home to 1,000 small turboprop planes within five years. There are currently just 400 private jets operating in China, although Canada’s Bombardier thinks it will sell 2,400 business jets there by 2032.

But what happened to the pilots of the plane in Sichuan? Local authorities deemed their highway landing as an “illegal flight” and tracked them down to a company operating out of the Beichuan General Aviation Industrial Park. The unnamed company has been banned from further use of the plane and fined Rmb500,000, while the pilots were ordered to pay Rmb100,000 in penalties.

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