By ADAM CENTURY on The New York Times - The Civil Aviation Administration of China has said it will relax requirementsfor obtaining a private pilot’s license, a move that is likely to unleash pent-up demand in the country’s civil aviation sector. The new regulations make it considerably easier for individuals to acquire a license, a coveted status symbol within China’s burgeoning class of business moguls and millionaires.
The announcement on Tuesday came just weeks after the Air Traffic Control Commission of China unveiled plans to open more low-altitude airspace for commercial and private airplanes in the coming years. Most of China’s airspace is currently reserved for military use, and the push to liberalize the country’s airspace has been a front-line issue between China’s vast security apparatus and its increasingly powerful commercial interests.
In 2011, a senior official in the Civil Aviation Administration estimated that 20 percent of China’s airspace was available for civil aviation, including both commercial and private flights. By contrast, the official said, about 85 percent of the United States’ airspace was open for civil aviation.
According to Xia Xinghua, deputy administrator of the C.A.A.C., China has 399 airports or vertipads and 1,610 jets registered for civil aviation, with a rapidly expanding consumer market for private jets. Given that the private aircraft market in the West is still rebounding from the financial crisis, some analysts say that China could overtake the United States as the largest market for private planes within the coming decade.
Zhu Shicai, an official with the Air Traffic Control Commission, told reporters at the China International General Aviation Convention in October that general aviation was expected to be the next driving force of the Chinese economy, after the automobile industry. Developing the civil aviation sector was highlighted as a major goal in China’s 12th Five-Year Plan.
Pete Bunce, president of the Washington-based General Aviation Manufacturers Association, in response to the C.A.A.C. announcement,commended the Chinese “government for taking this initial step, and we look forward to the pending release of further regulations that more clearly define the altitudes specified for” general aviation operations.
The previous regulations concerning private aviation licenses were released in 1996, years before the market for private flying began to take off. Under the old regulations, the requirements to obtain a private pilot’s license were similar to those for a commercial pilot’s license. In the United States and other countries, commercial pilot’s licenses are considerably harder to obtain than private ones.
Under the new rules, which take effect Sunday, Chinese citizens aged 17 or above with at least a junior high school education will be eligible to apply for a private pilot’s license, which allows them to fly noncommercial airplanes. Applicants must undergo 40 hours of classroom study, 40 hours of in-flight training, and then pass relevant tests. The in-flight training requirement stipulates 20 hours of assisted flying, 10 hours of solo flying and another 10 hours of training in various situations, such as landing at night.
On Friday, The Beijing News carried the headline: “In the future, getting a private pilot’s license will be just as easy as getting an automobile driver’s license.”