Commuter aviation expected to take flight soon

Updated: 2013-09-06 02:21

By CAO YIN in Beijing and QI XIN in Zhengzhou (China Daily)

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Fed up with traffic jams and want a way to escape?

Look up into the sky.

People in Henan province are expected to enjoy an airplane network that connects many counties and provides short-distance flights.

In August, a Beijing-based aircraft manufacturer signed an 800 million yuan ($130 million) contract with a general aviation company in the province to produce 300 small airplanes within five years.

The two companies want to establish mini airports in more than 160 counties in the province, and use their aircraft for short-distance flights.

The cooperation will also contribute to developing Chinese aviation, specifically airplanes and helicopters powered by piston and alternative engines, and setting up a low-altitude flying network in the country, said Chen Wei, chairman of Beijing George Heintz Aircraft Manufacturing Co, in Beijing's Miyun county.

Chen's company has finished two Hummer aircraft, with another 14 due to be delivered to Henan before October.

All the aircraft produced and assembled have no more than 10 seats, mainly targeting the market for low-altitude flights, generally at a height of less than 1,000 meters.

A mini airport will occupy up to 100,000 square meters and cost no more than 20 million yuan, according to Chen, adding the length of a runway can be within 200 meters.

The cost of a small aircraft ranges from 1.5 million yuan to 4.5 million yuan.

If all areas, including towns and counties, can be connected with small airports, it will bring benefits not just to general aviation, but other industries such as logistics, he said.

Currently, the number of aircraft used for general aviation in China is no more than 2,000, compared with 300,000 planes and 80,000 airports for such flights in the United States, he said.

"I usually spend about one hour driving from Miyun to downtown Beijing, but sometimes I'm worried about a delay in work if traffic is bad," he said. "But it only takes about 15 minutes if I choose general aviation."

Chen's experience also showed the importance of developing the low-altitude market.

"I went to the Inner Mongolia autonomous region for business. From the map, the distance between two cities is only 40 km, but I had to drive more than 200 km," he said.

It inspired Chen's resolution to improve general aviation in China after he came back from the US, where his company is headquartered.

Peng Gang, deputy general manager of Lan Xiang general aviation company in Henan, said opening up the low-altitude sky is an international trend.

General aviation covers a large range of activities, commercial and non-commercial, including flying clubs, flight training, agricultural aviation, and light aircraft manufacturing and maintenance, Pang said.

In addition to carrying a small number of passengers, general aviation aircraft can also spray insecticide, do artificial precipitation and take part in emergency rescue, he said.

"I'm optimistic about general aviation, and it will boom in the near future, although it is just starting in our country," he said.

However, transport experts said it is still hard to open up low-level airspace quickly, suggesting the government establish clear rules for general aviation as soon as possible.

Although the government said in 2010 that low-altitude space would be open for use by the end of 2020 after pilot programs in some cities, "the control of airspace will still be strict", said Zhang Jian, a senior officer from a flying group of Air China.

Zhang Zhuting, a professor at the Ministry of Transport's Management College, said it is important to ensure the security and quality of small aircraft.

He suggested the government open its mind on developing general aviation.

"Most air space is controlled by the military," he said.

If general aviation can be given more air resources, it will develop better and faster, he said.

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