Relaxed rules give dreams of flying new hope

Updated: 2014-02-05 01:00

By Zhao Lei (China Daily)

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Regulators look to boost development of private aviation sector, pilot reserve

Relaxed rules give dreams of flying new hope

Pilots stand next to a Bell 407 helicopter in Handan, Hebei province. According to the Civil Aviation Administration of China, only 345 people nationwide have a private pilot’s license. Hao Qunying / China Daily

For businessman Yuan Yongmin, waiting for the next buyer means being patient for several months or even a year.

"I have been waiting more than 20 years to send all of them to fly," the 58-year-old said, pointing at a row of Blue Eagle AD-200 ultralight planes in his hangar in suburban Beijing.

In 1993, Yuan, who has been a successful restaurant owner since the ‘80s, took out a 20 million yuan (then $3.5 million) loan and purchased the proprietary rights for the lightweight aircraft from the Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics.

He then established China's first private plane factory, which can produce as many as 100 aircraft per year.

However, his business hasn't been the success he had hoped — only 20 planes have sold in the past 20 years.

The current price for the two-seat aircraft is about 350,000 yuan ($57,900).

"Stringent application procedures for flying private planes and rigorous physical requirements for pilots have resulted in only a few people owning planes or having pilot's licenses," Yuan said, noting he supports the aircraft factory with the money he earns from the restaurant and other ventures.

"I hope the government's recent actions will boost my aircraft business by attracting more people to study flying and to buy their own planes and helicopters."

Yuan's hope for his business is due to China's move in the last few months to boost the private aviation industry.

Since late November, relaxed standards for comprehensive and physical exams have been instated for students seeking certification to fly private planes.

Under the new standards, those aged 17 or above who have received at least three years of middle school education are eligible to apply for a private pilot's license.

The biggest changes made to the previous requirements are in the physical criteria an applicant must meet.

Requirements for height, weight and eyesight were altered, and those who have chronic diseases, like diabetes, hypertension or coronary artery disease, which would disqualify them in the past, are allowed by the new rules.

"After the changes, the physical requirements for private pilot's license holders have become as flexible as those for drivers," the Civil Aviation Administration of China said in a statement.

"Before the standards were loosened, the physical requirements for private aircraft pilots were as stringent as those for commercial airline pilots," said Li Xiaojin, a professor at the Civil Aviation University of China.

"Because more and more people have begun to own private planes or to apply for flight certificates for business or recreational purposes, the adjustment of standards came at the right time."

In the past, flight students were subject to rigorous standards because most of them would fly military or commercial aircraft after they graduated from flight academies, Li explained.

He added that equipment used on planes then were not as advanced as today, so a pilot had to have a strong physique to handle flight controls.

After receiving a certified report of their physical fitness, flight students also have to go through 40 hours of comprehensive study and another 40 hours of flight training before they sit for final exams.

Passing the tests allows them a private pilot's license, the administration said, noting there are about 40 flight academies in China.

The aviation regulator added that those who obtain licenses can also fly professionally by acquiring a commercial pilot's license, but that's based on their flight time as a private pilot and requires higher levels of flight training.

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