* China is preparing to open up lower airspace
* Open-sky initiative may herald expansion of general
* Gulfstream, Dassault, Cessna, Bombardier gearing up for
* Inadequate infrastructure remains major obstacle
By Fang Yan and Matthew Miller
BEIJING, Dec 27 Ferraris and Rolls-Royces have
become common sights in China's cities as a new class of
super-rich indulge a growing appetite for luxury, but tight
regulation has meant the private jet, the ultimate status symbol
of the global elite, remains rare.
Recent rules changes, however, indicate that China is
preparing to open its skies to private aircraft, in a move that
may herald the greatest expansion of business and private
aviation in the last 30 years.
Last month, China's aviation regulator simplified flight
approval procedures for private aircraft and lowered the
threshold for obtaining a private pilot licence.
More importantly, the implementation of little-noticed
guidelines issued by China's State Council and the Central
Military Commission in 2010 will gradually lift the ceiling for
low-flying aircraft by 2020.
For companies such as Cessna, Gulfstream,
Dassault Aviation SA and Bombardier Inc,
which have spent the last decade trying to build their China
business, it may present a unique opportunity to expand in the
world's fastest-growing aviation market.
"This tells everyone publicly that China now endorses the
use of business aircraft and general aviation just like any
other countries worldwide," Roger Sperry, Gulfstream's senior
vice president of international sales, told Reuters in an
interview. "I'm nothing but optimistic."
General aviation, which refers to all flights that are not
operated by airlines, charter firms or the military, is already
a $150 billion business in the United States.
In contrast, there are only 1,610 registered general
aviation aircraft in China, the latest figures from the China
General Aviation Association show.
That compares with about 228,000 in the United States,
according to Craig Spence, secretary general of the
International Council of Aircraft Owner and Pilot Associations.
Joseph Tymczyszyn, a former representative of the U.S.
Federal Aviation Administration in China, said when he mentioned
private aircraft to Chinese industry officials nine years ago he
was told commercial aviation was the priority.
"When I talked to CAAC about general aviation in 2004, Ma
Tao said, 'Don't waste your time and money, nobody is interested
in that'," Tymczyszyn, a co-founder and executive director of
the U.S.-China Aviation Cooperation Program, told Reuters.
Ma, then the deputy director general of the Flight Standards
Department of the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC),
was among a group of Chinese aviation officials who often
visited the United States, where their experience of general
aviation began to change attitudes, Tymczyszyn recalled.
Still, in a country where the military controls 80 percent
of airspace there were formidable obstacles to expanding private
air travel. Approval for a three-hour trip on a private plane
would take at least two weeks and was never guaranteed.
Lack of facilities where small planes can take off, land or
refuel, as well as a dearth of low-altitude aviation maps, have
meant hopping on a private plane to visit the other side of the
country for the weekend remains a dream for even the most
"We had a few sales in 2006, 2007 and 2008, but very limited
in numbers," recalled Jean Michel Jacob, senior vice president
of international sales with France's Dassault Falcon.
Sales started to pick up in 2010 and so far the French
company has sold 30 jets in China, with 20 scheduled for
delivery in 2014-2015.
For U.S. rival Gulfstream, owned by General Dynamics Corp,
Greater China represents about 6 percent of a worldwide delivery
of 2,150 jets, compared with 65 percent to the United States.
Business jet sales in China for Canada's Bombardier have
topped 100, while Textron Inc's Cessna has sold more than 70
All are gearing up for growth.
In November 2012, Gulfstream's Beijing maintenance centre,
with an 82,000 sq ft (7,600 sq m) hangar, opened for business.
Dassault Falcon, which has maintenance facilities in Hong
Kong and Shanghai, is scheduled open a new one in Beijing next
year, and plans to recruit more native Chinese speakers to its
Cessna has already started delivery of its Grand Caravan EX
made at its China venture with state-owned Aviation Industry
Corporation of China (AVIC). Delivery of its Citation XLS+ jets
built by a separate venture with AVIC is scheduled to begin in
the fourth quarter of 2014, according to William Schultz, senior
vice president of Business Development at Cessna Aircraft's
Bombardier forecasts overall business jet deliveries in
Greater China at 2,420 in 2013-2032, with 1,000 to be delivered
in 2013-2022, rising to 1,420 during 2023-2032.
The growth, industry insiders say, would be fuelled in part
by demand for smaller jets in a country where large-cabin
models, such as Dassault's Falcon 7x or Gulfstream's G550 and
G650, are among the best sellers.
"There is a beautiful potential in this market,"
Beijing-based Jacob told Reuters.
BEAT THE JAMS
Guidance issued by regulators in 2010 aims to open up
airspace below 1,000 metres (3,280 ft) by 2015 and expand to
airspace below 3,000 metres by 2020.
Pilot scheme were started in Changchun in the northeast, and
Guangzhou and Hainan Island in the south, where private aircraft
owners need only submit flight plans before 3 p.m. the previous
day, unless they encroach on militarily sensitive areas.
The experiment was expanded to other cities in 2012 and will
spread other regions gradually.
"It's pretty much like the way China transformed itself from
a planned economy to a market-oriented economy in the 1980s,"
said Ke Yubao, executive secretary general of state-backed
Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association of China.
"It all started from the Shenzhen special economic zone and
then spread to other parts of the country."
Besides investing billions in new airport construction, for
both commercial and general aviation, China has also been making
progress with low-altitude aviation maps, a source told
And once general aviation spreads its wings, there may be
fewer frustrated drivers in China increasingly congested cities,
where traffic can move at snail's pace in rush hours and
"I laughed when I saw people in a Ferrari going one mile an
hour in a Beijing traffic jam. If you buy a Cirrus or Cessna,
you can actually go 150 miles an hour and it's more fun," said