China Loosens the Screws on a Toehold of Its Airspace

It's just one small step for some helicopters, but it could grow to a giant leap for general aviation in China — and ultimately, the rest of the world. China has begun testing a policy that shows promise of massive strides for general aviation. Over the coming weeks, four helicopters will be permitted to fly in the skies surrounding the city of Haikou (capital of the Hainan island province) without prior government permission. The flights will be limited to 1,000 meters in altitude (3,280 feet), but the experiment represents loosening an iron hand of military and government control of airspace. To date, less than a third of the airspace over the massive country is open to non-military flights, and private flying is all but non-existent. Part of the reason is that permission to take off — even on a short flight like those of the test operations — can take several days to attain. Over the next five years, the Haikou experiment is slated to be expanded to other areas, according to an announcement last November by China's State Council and Central Military Commission. Flights below 4,000 meters (13,123 feet) will be permitted without the onerous approval process, though a flight plan will still be required. With its huge expanses of territory and lack of surface highway infrastructure, China has long been seen as a fertile market for general aviation — should the stifling restrictions on airspace show any signs of weakening. The opening of the Haikou restrictions augers well for those general aviation companies that look to China to bolster demand for their products.