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In 2003 the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) partnered with the US Trade and Development Agency to cooperate on the development of Chinese aviation safety- capacity- and efficiency. The team’s Business Aviation expert Adam Cowburn talks tactics with Liz Moscrop

Eight years ago China’s Civil Aviation Administration (CAAC) teamed with the United States government to create the US-China Aviation Cooperation Program (ACP). North American members include: the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA)- the US Trade and Development Agency Commerce Department- the US Embassy in Beijing- and fifty prominent US aviation companies.

The aim is to promote industry-wide technical- policy and commercial cooperation between the US and China- and assist Chinese aviation experts to develop and operate a safe efficient aviation infrastructure. ACP’s funded programs include: air traffic flow management- China General Aviation development and implementation support- ATC safety training- CAAC flight standards inspector training- and certification safety.

Consultancy ICF SH&E is solely responsible for the US$400-000 GA development initiative- and is working with Captain Yibin Jin- Director General of CAAC’s Flight Standards Department to support the CAAC in the area of low altitude airspace management- development of commuter operations in remote areas- and oversight of fixed base operations (FBO)- and flight service stations (FSS).

ICF SH&E’s Business Aviation expert Adam Cowburn believes that growth in the Business and General Aviation sector in China will accelerate exponentially. He said- “The business aviation landscape in China is evolving at an incredible pace. The fleet of business aircraft in China (including Hong Kong and Macau) is now approximately 180 aircraft. That figure has doubled in roughly the last four years- and ICF SH&E expects it will likely double again in four years time.” He added that in five years time- he expects to see a much more developed network of ancillary companies- such as FBOs- aircraft management firms- and maintenance providers.

To support that growth trajectory- ICF SH&E is working with a wide variety of aviation enterprises from both inside and outside China to understand the market and identify appropriate strategies to address the country’s unique requirements. Mr. Cowburn said- “For individual clientele seeking to acquire a new aircraft- we have advised on aircraft selection- actively participated in negotiations with the aircraft manufacturers- and assisted with the technical aspects of aircraft delivery.”

He cautioned- however- “As with all markets where business aviation is an emerging phenomenon- there needs to be a continued period of understanding in China about the potential for business aviation as a vehicle for economic development.” He cited the example of a major enterprise with its headquarters in a large urban area like Shanghai or Beijing- and production facilities widely scattered in smaller communities that may not benefit from regular airline service.

In this instance a business aircraft would allow the senior executives of that corporation and their teams to conduct meetings at multiple facilities in a single day and return home for a client dinner in the evening- something not possible on an airline schedule. Mr. Cowburn said- “To achieve this level of flexibility and productivity for users of Business Aviation- China should continue its efforts to facilitate the development of the sector and identify ways to remove barriers to growth in a manner appropriate for the Chinese market.”

Some of the barriers to growth center on slot restriction at China’s three major business cities- Beijing- Guangzhou and shanghai. He added- “These airports are incredibly slot constrained. It is not unheard of for a business aircraft to be offered a 2am slot in Beijing.” He sees the solution in developing some of the many military fields around large cities and added that FBO development will not truly happen until there is a greater number of aircraft flying in China.

Western assistance
Mr. Cowburn pointed to Western aircraft manufacturers- whom he said- “are clearly laser focused on China- and the potential it represents for aircraft sales. Through their buying habits Chinese Business Aviation customers have demonstrated a clear preference for new aircraft.” He emphasized that these aircraft will age eventually and the market must evolve to include older aircraft with greater maintenance requirements. He continued- “For each Western manufacturer selling aircraft in China- the next major step to facilitate industry growth will be the establishment of a larger local footprint in China to support business aircraft through the product lifecycle.”

Although China does not at present manufacture business jets via a standalone company- Mr. Cowburn does not believe it will be long before we see Chinese built corporate aircraft flying. He said- “The Comac ARJ21 regional jet is being offered as a business jet variant- so that has the best chance of becoming the first Chinese-made business jet flying in the near-term. Over the medium- and longer-term- in terms of a truly indigenous program I expect the first step will be a partnership approach between an existing aircraft manufacturer and a Chinese manufacturing organization to work towards an aircraft that is jointly produced in China.”

He concluded- ”Aircraft manufacturing efforts in China today are mostly focused on the airline side- starting with regional jets and moving up to narrowbody products- but there is no question in my mind that those efforts will migrate toward business aviation soon.”

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