China Lifts Restrictions on Private Pilot Licenses

Pent-up demand expected to be strong.

Chinese private pilot licenses

Chinese private pilot licenses

Following last week's easing of civilian flights in restricted airspace, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) announced on Sunday that it would relax requirements for private pilot licenses.

With the strong cachet of private flying in the country, analysts expect pent-up demand to result in a stampede of growth for general aviation. China's current five-year plan lists developing its general aviation industry close behind the automotive industry in priority, as evidenced by aggressive investment in established U.S. manufacturers such as Cirrus, Mooney and Continental Motors. Some have suggested that China could eclipse the U.S. in general aviation activity in less than 10 years.

Before last month's ruling on airspace, the Chinese military restricted private flying to 20 percent of the country's airspace (compared with 85 percent of U.S. airspace that is available to civil aviation), and private flights were required to apply for permits weeks in advance. According to the CAAC, there are 399 airports or heliports in the country and just more than 1,600 jets registered, including airliners. With wide expanses of territory and the lack of a national highway system, the potential for general aviation is great. But for years, Chinese military restrictions have capped growth. That could be changing now.

Up until Sunday's announcement, acquiring a private pilot license in China was more like qualifying for a commercial certificate in the U.S. system. Those rules were established in 1996. Now, requirements mirror those of the FAA. Anyone 17 years old (with a junior high school education) is eligible. Training involves a minimum 20 hours' dual instruction, 10 hours' solo and 10 hours of specialized instruction, such as night flying, for 40 hours of total time. An additional 40 hours of classroom time is also part of the curriculum.

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