Half a million new pilots on the horizon for China.
New York (AirGuideBusiness - Business & Industry Features)
Tue, Jul 8, 2014 Thin and bespectacled, Xiao Zixuan, 17, dreams of
flying a helicopter. This weekend, the boy from China's southern
metropolis of Shenzhen, visited an international flight training
exhibition and is convinced that his dream is near at hand. He foresees
a successful career as a general aviation pilot. General aviation
refers to more or less all civil aviation operations other than
scheduled passenger services and charters. General aviation includes
flight schools, agricultural use, manufacture and maintenance of
aircraft, stunt flying and airshows. The majority of the world's
air traffic falls into this category, but it is seriously underdeveloped
in China. Lack of human resources is widely considered the biggest
problem for general aviation development. The shortage of pilots is the
most obvious and urgent of many such problems. The exhibition, hosted
by China's Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA), was
attended by over half of China's 40-odd flight schools exhibitors,
optimistic about prospects of China's flight training industry, an
optimism shared by overseas counterparts such as the Sierra Academy of
Aeronautics from the US and Antipodean Aviation of Australia. China had
around 35,000 certificated pilots at the end of 2013, the majority of
whom work for airlines. The US has nearly 600,000 pilots in service and
only a quarter of them are airline pilots. The others are student
pilots, sports pilots, recreational pilots, private pilots or other
commercial pilots. There are less that 2,000 private flying license
holders in China, according to the Civil Aviation Administration of
China (CAAC). The figure for the US is 200,000. "People keep
asking me how many pilots China needs." Chen Guangcheng, head of
pilot certification with the CAAC, was talking with Xinhua at the
exhibition. "Our projection is that 20 years from now, aviation in
China will be much the same as that in the US today. If that's the
case, we'll need 80,000 more airline pilots, and 400,000 to 500,000
general aviation pilots." Martin Robinson, a senior vice president
of the International Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association, thinks the
number could be even bigger. These half a million new pilots, Chen
believes, should include both professionals and people who simply fly
for fun and interest rather than occupational reasons. The CAAC supports
and encourages ordinary people pursuing their flying dreams. "New
administrative rules for pilots are expected soon," Chen said.
"We will bring in a new category of sports licenses and make it
easier than ever for amateurs to fly." "It's like 20
years ago when Chinese people started to learn to drive. They did not
drive for a living but for their own convenience or interest," Chen
explained. "Their current demands for flying need to be answered
quickly by flight schools." AVIClub under China's state-owned
Aviation Industry Corporation (AVIC) received many inquiries about its
private license program at the exhibition, according to Gao Qiang, its
vice general manager. "The club was founded 6 months ago in Zhuhai
and we have more than 40 registered members," said Gao.
"AVIClub plans 50 branches across China, providing services such as
private license training, flying activities, aircraft sales and
hangars." International agencies are showing plenty of interest in
China's flight training industry. Sierra Academy of Aeronautics,
with 48 years of flight training experience, is looking for more Chinese
students. "I've seen a jump of 50% in the number of Chinese
students in the past few years. Now we have 241 students and 80% of them
are from China." Scott McCormick, a senior operating officer with
the school, told Xinhua. "China's general aviation has come a
long way in just two years. There's a high social class emerging in
China. These people want to have their own aircraft, and they want to
fly and enjoy themselves. And we want to accommodate that,"
McCormick added. Antipodean Aviation of Australia has teamed up with
America's Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University to provide a full
range of courses. "Our training programs cover the whole industry
chain of general aviation," said Gordon Huang, the company's
representative in China. The CAAC will encourage foreign agencies to
provide courses in China and help Chinese people to learn to fly abroad.
But Martin Robinson thinks China would be better served by importing
expertise to develop its own flight training industry, rather than
sending students and money to the US, Australia or New Zealand.
"Besides flight training, you need people to look after the planes,
to manage the airport...there'll be an economic multiplier effect.
It'll create many jobs and benefit the local community,"
Robinson said. "Before a sales market can be developed you need a
flight training industry producing private pilots. Those private pilots
have got to want to become aircraft owners," he said. "The
flying dream is not so far off as most people imagine," Gao Qiang
believes. "A private license now costs about US$32,000, and a
US-made Cirrus SR20 plane costs maybe no more than a Ferrari." At
the center of the exhibition hall is a TEAM mini-max plane for as little
as US$20,000, almost the same price as a Volkswagen Golf in China.
Zhang Feng, secretary-general of AOPA China, sees the cost of a private
pilot's license falling as low as US$8,000 in the near future.
"When this will happen really depends on the opening of
China's low altitude airspace." A State Council guideline on
low altitude airspace was issued in 2010, but very limited progress has
been made. One step forward was the opening last month of the first low
altitude route, between Zhuhai, Yangjiang and Luoding in Guangdong,
intended mainly for training and recreation. "We're so happy
with the progress but it is still just a point-to-point route and has
made no substantial difference," said Zhang, adding that the core
of general aviation is to fly freely. "After the problem of
personnel, access to airspace is the major stumbling block for
China's general aviation," Robinson said. "People would
like to see the process sped up." "Many powerful Chinese
companies are buying up western (aircraft) manufacturers. They
don't want to wait a long time to see a return on their investment.
The Chinese government needs to act more quickly," Robinson added.
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