TOWARDS A GA PARADISE IN GUANGDONG PROVINCE, Jinshan Tu, Chairman and General Manager, Kings Aviation
This year, Mr. Tu, who has over 10 years of experience in the general aviation (GA) sector, joined Shenzhen-based helicopter operator Kings Aviation as Chairman and General Manager. He is now set to lead Kings Aviation to expand their business with his rich experience in the helicopter industry and knowledge of developing emergency medical services (EMS) in China. In this interview, Mr. Tu shares his views on the Greater Bay Area initiative and the opportunities it brings to GA in China.
What was your experience prior to joining Kings Aviation?
I started as Chairman and General Manager of Kingwing Aviation in 2007. Throughout my time with the company, I had the opportunity to understand and develop the market. Shortly after starting with the company, Kingwing was asked by the government to provide EMS rescue support for the Wenchuan (Sichuan) Earthquake. In 2010, I had the opportunity to organize and participate in the Sino-US Intercontinental Helicopter Forum, fostering helicopter sales and international cooperation. Kingwing worked with top OEMs, providing feedback from Chinese users to help those manufacturers setup their China operations. Just a few years later, myself and the company researched sky tour routes between Mount Wutai, Shanxi and Kaifeng and laid the groundwork for its development later. In 2017, I became the General Manager (South China and Guangdong province) and successfully lobbied for an air passage for EMS flights throughout 21 prefecture-level cities in Guangdong, serving over 300,000 clients. This year, I collaborated with an insurance company to provide the Chunyun EMS during Chinese New Year. I’ve had a lot of experience with Kingwing Aviation and I’m now happy to use this knowledge with Kings Aviation.
Tell me about Kings Aviation?
Kings Aviation has been established for six years. Our main business segments include power line inspection, forestry and aerial photography, which are served by medium- to heavy-sized helicopters — two Airbus AS350B3s and one Sikorsky Schweitzer 300CBi. Our next step is to focus on our special missions training program at our Yangjiang facility, which we hope will evolve into a top training center in the country.
Additionally, we are in the process of exploring maintenance support. Currently, we only repair our own aircraft and provide maintenance for MD helicopters. However, we are in the middle of the application for an MRO certification. I hope we can establish a repair base in China, saving the cost and pain of sending aircraft outside of the country.
What infrastructure supports King’s GA operations?
We use different temporary operating bases according to each mission. For example, we are now administering a power line inspection in Genhe, Mongolia.
Our main operating base is the Yangjiang facility. Yangjiang has been the bridgehead of GA in the Pearl River Delta. GA has flourished here for more than 80 years. There are seven GA companies and over 20 aircraft operating based in the city. Yangjiang has a lot of advantages which allow for GA development: ample government support with beneficial policies, established infrastructure, an abundance of talent and a stable client base. These conditions strengthen Yangjiang’s competitiveness and allow for the continuity of GA businesses. Apart from that, Yangjiang’s geographic layout consists of mountains, sea, a lake and forest, which makes this ideal for helicopter operations training.
The Government is focusing on the Greater Bay Area. What does this mean for GA?
First of all, the Guangdong province has always had tremendous potential for GA. In Guangdong, there are around 50 GA companies and over 20 airports for GA use. Flying between cities is frequent, and the number of aircraft in this province is among the top 3 in the country. Thanks to its geographical advantage, Guangdong can absorb more foreign funds and talent, thus learning from foreign practices. There is also an annual airshow in Zhuhai, which definitely gives GA a little push. Besides, in Guangdong, more diverse flying missions and longer flight hours result in more refined flying techniques. Therefore, the prospects of the Guangdong market are pretty promising.
Compared to the north, Guangdong has a milder climate which is safe to fly almost the whole year. It explains why there are more corporate flights, while in the north, demands are higher for agricultural missions. The north is also an excellent location for agricultural missions training. However, due to weather restrictions and the lack of talent, mission types are not as diverse as the south.
Guangdong is the cradle of GA in China, the current leader, and in the future the most competitive paradise for the industry.
What are the current challenges for GA?
One of the difficulties is that the region is so highly populated that airports must digest a massive passenger flow, especially the Guangzhou, Shenzhen and Zhuhai airports. As a result, GA has to deal with remarkable restrictions when operators seek approval to use these airports. The government will be carrying out extensive construction projects in Zhuhai and Yangjiang in hopes of alleviating the pressure. The Zhuhai airport is already under construction.
To establish a localized GA industry and contribute to the region’s economy, the government needs to give the green light to land use, talent and infrastructure. Yangjiang is expected to have even busier passenger traffic for it is now open to an international market. With the completion of the Express Rail Link and Shenzhen-Zhongshan Bridge which enhance connectivity between cities like Guangzhou and Shenzhen, the demand for GA is expected to rise.
Another challenge is the declaration and approval for cross-border flights. To land in Hong Kong or Macau, mainland operators must apply through the Air Force, as well as the Civil Aviation Department. Normally, if you submit an application before 3 pm, you receive the permission the next day. Although the procedures are not necessarily complex, it is still far from convenient, which is a key component of low-altitude flying. Operations are overseen by several official bodies and must carefully comply with every regulation. Air space is in the scope of the Air Force. Flying is in the scope of Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC). Safety is under Public Security, and certification is under the business department. For the sake of future GA development, more negotiations by the industry and government bodies are needed.
This is the reason why the industry always calls for opening low-altitude air space. Speaking of air space, there is one thing that needs to be clarified: the government did promise a ‘release’ of the low-altitude air space, but never an ‘open’. This ‘release’ is gradual and conditional, like how they set up the green passage for EMS flight, but a complete ‘open’ is impossible since the Air Force is always the first on the priority list. If the Air Force is having a training session, all GA flights must be suspended for the sake of safety. We should never confuse a ‘release’ in the air space with an ‘open’ of the air space.
Last but not least, we should not forget the fact that the ‘Greater Bay’ is merely a concept at the moment, in terms of GA. To prepare for further actualization of this plan, it is good for the industry to envision the opportunities this will bring about.
What is the potential of helicopter charter operations?
The Greater Bay Area is a large economy. Corporate helicopter flights and offshore operations are in line with the economic strength of the region. If we want to talk about opportunities from the Greater Bay initiative, to expand corporate commuting is definitely one of them. We are looking forward to supporting our parent company Avion Pacific to develop business jets services in response to the market through our experience with helicopters. Beechcraft’s King Air will be a perfect example of Avion Pacific’s regional jet business.
In addition, we are soliciting cooperation with golf courses in the region to start a golf charter helicopter service. Guangdong has the most and best golf courses of the country, with also the highest number of golf club members. This will be the best location to roll out the golf course shuttle helicopter service.
If we want to talk about opportunities from the Greater Bay initiative, to expand corporate commuting is definitely one of them.
What are your expectations for Kings Aviation?
We hope to establish a brand for Yangjiang special missions training and elevate its prestige to a national training center. We are also planning to develop air tour programs within the Pearl River Delta. Additionally, we’d like to diversity our product line by launching a corporate flying time card. Users will be charged at hourly rates to lower both their cost and our operating cost.
As far as the future of GA in China, it is still an untapped treasure. There is still room for development since the number of GA companies and aircraft is relatively small. I hope I can help boost our country’s GA development and start establishing industry norms with small contributions.