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Low-altitude airspace to open to private plane
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A small-scale private helicopter - very popular with the rich.

Flying your private plane to work or taking her for a picnic spin may be simple matter in China in another four or five years.

The Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) plans to authorize non-controlled air space and ease limitations on flying private planes, reported Guangzhou Daily. In other words, small private planes will be free to fly at low altitude.

Clandestine flying of private planes

Many rich Cantonese have owned private planes for years. However, due to low-altitude airspace restrictions, private planes – mostly low-flying aircraft – need to apply three days in advance for a flight permit from the local bureau of civil aviation.

The Pearl-River Delta (including Guangzhou and Shenzhen) is the area where most private planes are to be found, said an anonymous insider. “Private planes are mostly used for leisure, and their owners like to keep their aircraft secret.” The insider also revealed that plane owners prefer “clandestine flying” to applying for a permit.

Flight Clubs – the path to success

To be authorized to fly, private planes must meet three essential criteria, said a CAAC official. A Certificate of Airworthiness issued by the CAAC is an absolute prerequisite, and the pilot must have followed professional training and have obtained a pilot’s license. The third requirement is to apply for airspace and to hand in a flight plan before taking-off.

For a small private plane, it is very difficult to meet these three criteria. The best way to succeed is to join a flying club that will take charge of the flight and airspace application.

Creating the demand for a new industry

According to the CAAC, private planes will benefit from advances in Civil Aviation Law, which is scheduled for improvement.

On the one hand, the administration will define non-controlled air space sectors, which will help to open up low altitude airspace. On the other hand, general aviation will be separated from civil aviation and will be supervised through a separate department.

Many experts believe that opening low altitude airspace will act as a stimulus to consumption, especial among the wealthy.

Using America as a reference, private plane ownership numbers increased sharply from 1,800 to 18,000 after low altitude airspace was opened up. This encouraged development in a series of industries, including aero fuel and aircraft production, and added US$50 billion of economic activity per year.

If China’s per capita ownership of private aircraft were to reach 1/20 of America’s, the economic benefit produced would equal 100 billion yuan (US$15 billion).

An achievable dream

To join the rank of private plane owners is not too difficult – about 300,000 yuan (US$44,000) will buy you an aircraft.

The cheapest domestic light plane is the Bee series, produced by Beijing University of Aeronautics & Astronautics. Compared to other domestic models costing from 200,000 to 1.9 million yuan, the Bee series is priced from 150,000 to 320,000 yuan.

Add about 90,000 yuan for private pilot training, and the bottom price to keep a private plane amounts to around 240,000 yuan (US$36,000).

But many people still worry about high running costs. Items like daily maintenance fees, parking fees and air traffic control charges soon mount up. In fact, entrusting the care of your light plane to a professional company or club can reduce these charges to 100,000 yuan per year (US$14.500).

An official of the Civil Aviation Flight University of China confirmed that most national pilot training schools and some companies belonging to the CAAC offer services for private planes and pilots.

(China.org.cn by Wu Huanshu, November 1, 2008)

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