FUTURE IS BRIGHT, WHILE AIR SPACE REMAIN TIGHT, Chunhau Xie, Vice General Manager, Guangzhou Suilian Helicopter General Aviation Co.Ltd

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Chunhui Xie, Vice General Manager of Guangzhou Suilian Helicopter General Aviation Co., Ltd shared his views on the current operating environment, limitations, and his expectations for the Greater Bay initiative. For the development of GA in the region, Xie thinks the future is bright, but the air space — like in the old Chinese folktale — is “east wind” lacking. 

Suilian General Aviation is a registered GA company based in Guangzhou. Their business can be divided into five components: pest control, power line inspection, pilot training, aerial photogrammetry and sky tour. According to Xie, Suilian has been focusing on pest control and power line inspection in recent years. Not long ago, the company carried out a mission for Shenzhen Electric Power Supply Bureau. As for pilot training, Xie has observed tougher competition in the market in the past few years.

Still, one of the main opportunities and, likewise, concerns that Xie has is about the Government’s promoting of the Greater Bay Area.

Xie believes that although there are no practical policies regarding GA yet, this integration provides a golden opportunity, especially for regional corporate flying. “Being one of the regions that have the largest economic capacity in the country, the Greater Bay is home to a lot of big companies. Therefore, the demand for corporate flying is huge,” he explained. “The region offers other traffic alternatives, but on land it is rather crowded. For example, if you are in Shenzhen and try to get to Guangzhou via the Humen Pearl River Bridge, you are likely to encounter serious congestions. If point-to-point ferry flying within the Greater Bay Area can be realized, it will be considered a very attractive mode of transport by business people.”

“For now, the biggest challenge for the GA industry lies in the air space.” Xie says. In China, the air space is highly restricted; it is first reserved for the Air Force then commercial aviation, then GA is the last on the list. Xie explained that airports in this area, including Guangzhou and Shenzhen, have always had intense passenger traffic, alongside dense airline routes, meaning the air space is consistently full due to commercial flights. Therefore, though the demand for GA is there, the actual use cannot catch up with that.

Since the air space is strictly regulated, every GA flight must go under declaration and await approvals. It is not that the procedures are complicated, as Xie puts, but this poses some degree of inconvenience to their company’s GA operations. 

“Let say we are doing this aerial photogrammetry mission, which has higher requirements for the weather and visibility. Hence, the timing of this kind of operation is crucial. Sometimes the weather is good to go, but the paperwork is still pending; when the approval finally comes in, the weather may have already changed.” 

This waiting gives charter services an even heavier blow, for the key to charter flights is catering to the clients’ needs about the time and the place. If an operator fails to guarantee it, then corporate helicopter charter is losing its charm, and it will be hard for the operator to sustain this business. “Clients don’t mind the cost but expect this to answers to all customized requests, for example, an on-schedule flight.” 

While the industry is awaiting more relaxed regulations and airspace, Xie explained that the infrastructure for helicopters is available and relatively flexible. “When Suilian administers a pest control mission in a rural area, we will find a flat, open space, basketball court or plaza nearby to act as a temporary helipad. The CAAC and the Air Force provided clear instructions for this kind of application.” 

As for corporate flying, the Government doesn’t have particularly fussy requirements for helicopter landing spots, namely helipads. In fact, a lot of tall buildings in Guangzhou and Shenzhen already contain quality helipads on their rooftops. With proper planning and coordination, they should be sufficient for GA’s use.

Even with the possibilities and potential for GA in the Greater Bay Area, Xie’s attitude remains “cautiously optimistic”. 

“Since the State Council introduced a guidance on fostering GA development in 2016, the Government has attached great importance to this field,” Xie explained pointing out that the CAAC has already done a lot in lowering standards, relaxing restrictions and encouraging businesses in recent years. While GA in the Greater Bay Area definitely has huge potential, the air space is the “east wind” which Zhuge Liang was waiting for in the folktale to yield huge success. 

“I really hope to see an open of air space in the future, so that corporate flying can be realized.”

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China GA Report, 2018Robert Li