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China's low-altitude airspace needs reform: industry leaders
Publication Date : 27-09-2013
The Chinese government should gradually deepen its reform on low-altitude airspace management by taking more concrete measures to boost development of the the helicopter industry, say industry leaders.
"As far as I know, government departments have been continuously pushing forward the reform on low-altitude airspace, and we are also pressing for that," Lin Zuoming, chairman of Aviation Industry Corp of China, has said.
He said the government has laid out a blueprint for the reform, but details remain unknown.
"For instance, if someone injured in a traffic accident needs to be transferred by helicopter, I am afraid it would be too slow for the helicopter to wait for approval from air traffic control," he said, suggesting the government should be bolder in overhauling the air traffic control system.
A business development director for civil helicopters at Avicopter, who identified himself only by his surname, Zhao, said it is complicated for helicopter owners to apply for the use of low-altitude airspace.
"You have to wait a long time before all the application papers for one single flight are reviewed and approved," Zhao said. "And even when you finally get approval and get ready to make the flight, it is similarly difficult to find proper facilities to accommodate you or the pilot and maintain the aircraft when it makes stops."
He explained that even if low-altitude airspace were completely opened to civilian aircraft, there would still be many problems, such as insufficient maintenance facilities and skilled support personnel.
China has fewer than 40 general aviation companies that own helicopters, and the scarcity of pilots is hindering their attempts to expand business, Zhao said.
"Although we are facing a lot of difficulties and challenges during the process, it is an irreversible trend that low-altitude airspace will be more open and available to civil aviation," Lin said.
China's airspace authority has vowed to expand available low-altitude airspace by 2015, pledging to streamline the approval procedures.
However, some industry insiders have asked the government not to open low-altitude airspace too soon because it could enable foreign carriers to monopolise the Chinese market.
"If the government announces that low-altitude airspace will be totally opened to civilian aircraft in a short time, a huge market will be created and foreign companies will swarm in, occupying most of the market with their mature marketing skills and products," said an Avicopter publicity officer who declined to be named.
"Of course we hope that authorities will not always put off the reform of low-altitude airspace, but we also don't want to see the airspace opened too soon," she said.
"Otherwise we will definitely lose in the competition with foreign carriers. We need a certain period of time to become strong and competitive."
According to Eurocopter, one of the largest helicopter providers in the world, China will need about 500 civil helicopters before 2015, and if the government opens up the low-altitude airspace, a market of more than 1,000 helicopters will emerge within 10 years.
Lin from Aviation Industry Corp of China said his company has been busy preparing for a "foreign intrusion" in the helicopter sector once low-altitude airspace is fully opened.
"They have advantages in research and development and product series, but we are not afraid to compete with them because we have woven a comprehensive after-sales service network, which they will need to spend many years to found. Meanwhile we have been striving to catch up with them in the technological and manufacturing fields."