Manufacturing News

Aviation industry awaits opportunities

Some of the industry players from China are already marketing utility aircraft for pilot training at the ongoing Singapore Airshow, even as experts say the reforms in low altitude airspace management are still "relatively slower" than what the members of the public want.

A Chinese company that operates a private-run aviation industry park from the eastern province of Jiangsu on Thursday presented the AT-3 two-seat utility aircraft manufactured by Poland-based Aero AT, which has been acquired by the Chinese company.

The Aero AT-3 is a two-seat utility aircraft typically used for pilot training purposes.

The Chinese company is also building a plant in China to capture opportunities it sees in the general aviation sector.

"We expect many people training to get pilot licenses in China if the low altitude airspace restrictions are removed. The pilots flying commercial aircraft would have to start training with small planes, too," said Steven Zhang, director of the company.

China has announced reforms in recent years to loosen airspace control. The airlines nowadays mostly do not have to seek approval from the military before they take off. The reforms are expected to unleash demand in the general aviation sector -- mostly smaller, private aircraft flying in low altitude airspace.

Aero AT is also considering manufacturing slightly bigger aircraft for the Chinese market, said Walter Jankowski, chief executive officer of the Poland-based company.

Under new regulations announced late last year, general aviation flights, no longer have to apply for approvals in advance with certain exceptions such as entering or exiting China's territories, flying through restricted zones and conducting aerial photography or surveys of military facilities.

The relaxed regulations were issued by the General Staff Headquarters of the People's Liberation Army and the Civil Aviation Administration of China.

However, experts like Yang Guoqing, vice president of the Chinese Society of Aeronautics and Astronautics and former deputy administrator of the Civil Aviation Administration of China, said that the reforms in low altitude airspace management still cannot catch up with expectations.

"By slower than expectations, I mean they still can not catch up with the expectations of the public. I am not saying that there has been no progress," Yang said at a forum on the sidelines of the airshow Wednesday.

He said that authorities and other players involved have been trying their best to push through the reforms.

The reforms involve various authorities and parties. The Civil Aviation Administration is not the main agency behind the reforms as airspace control primarily falls within the authority of the military.

"It takes time to move ahead with the reforms," Yang said.

Yang also identified general aviation as one of the still nascent industries with great potentials in outlining the strategic plans for China's aviation sector.

The strategic goal is for China to achieve an air transport passenger traffic of 1.5 billion per annum by 2030, which is set to make it the largest domestic air transport market in the world. By 2020, the annual turnover of the air transport system in China is expected to hit 140 billion ton kilometers. The population will on average make 0.47 trip per person per year, and there will be 260 airports, making air transport services available to 89 percent of the population.

However, Yang acknowledged that there are still bottlenecks such as infrastructure to the growth of the air transport sector in China.

The supply of air transport services will continue to be stretched over a certain period of time to come, as it can be seen from the on-time rate of the flight services falling in recent years and to as low as 71.8 percent in the first half of 2013.

This is in comparison with the 85 percent target on-time rate for flights in 2030.

Yang said the authorities in China will seek to expand the pilot reforms in low altitude airspace management, speed up the legislation works, simply the procedures for the general aviation aircraft and equipment to be approved, give more support to the general aviation specifically for use in charities and give more support to training.

Stanley Hui, chief executive of Hong Kong Airport Authority, said that the approach of allowing airspace to be primarily utilized for civil aviation but with exceptions if it is necessary may be an option authorities should consider.

Yang said there are still many preparatory work to be done to push through the reforms in low altitude airspace, including the capabilities and capacity building in managing the airspace under the new system.

"At the end of the day, the airspace resources should be utilized primarily to drive economic growth at peaceful times," he said, adding that infrastructure, capacity building and training will be necessary before the general aviation industry can really take off.

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