Business and general aviation services provider Asian Sky Group expects China general aviation annual flight hours to increase to just over 1.1 million in 2021, a net increase of 3.5 percent over the 2019 figure. Strict Covid rules for much of the past two years have kept China closed to international travel, but the domestic aviation market has flourished in a targeted zero-Covid environment.
The forecast would suggest a dramatic improvement after 2020 saw a fall in hours of 8 percent on the year-earlier figure. By June of last year, fleet size had grown 4 percent in six months, to 3,066 aircraft, ASG’s ‘China GA Report 2021’ said. Although China’s general aviation market is small relative to the country’s size, growth prospects appeared robust, the U.S. International Trade Administration (ITA) said in August.
The ITA expects general aviation flying hours to reach 6.3 million hours by 2035, up from 984,000 hours in 2020. Some sources had claimed demand reached a total of $29 billion in 2020. Concerns, however, remained over the military’s control of Chinese airspace. “Due to its size, China has many remote areas with limited transportation infrastructure,” the ITA said. “In these areas, general aviation investments can be a cost-effective solution for the movement of goods and people.”
By mission, 65 percent of China’s GA fleet serves flight training roles, 26 percent utility and air tourism, and 9 percent commuting and charter, according to ASG. By category, turboprops or piston-engine powered airplanes account for 52 percent of the 3,066-strong fleet, while helicopters comprise 34 percent, business jets 12 percent, and “others” 2 percent.
Textron remained the highest-ranked OEM in the fixed-wing turboprop and piston segment with a 30 percent market share. Among Textron’s aircraft, the Cessna 172 and Cessna 208 were the most popular piston and turboprop models, respectively, ASG said. The Guanghan, Sichuan-based Civil Aviation Flight University of China (CAFUC) ranked as the top turboprop and piston fixed-wing operator in China with some 280 aircraft.
“There are currently 33 general aviation aircraft manufacturers in mainland China that have obtained a domestic production certificate (PC),” ASG said. “Amongst these companies, 19 manufacture their own aircraft. China’s self-manufactured AG600, GA20, and JH-2 have all made significant progress.”
Jeffrey Lowe, Hong Kong-based ASG’s CEO, told AIN that China’s regulators have shown a positive attitude toward general aviation, projecting a mindset of getting people into aviation early. “The Chinese government realizes they need grass-roots growth too,” he said. “They are putting in place the regulatory environment, opening the airspace, building airports, and trying to encourage future job opportunities in aviation.”
At the end of 2020, the ASG said the total number of Chinese civil aviation pilot licenses totaled just under 70,000. From 2017 to 2019, annual growth in pilot licenses stood at around 10 percent, a figure that dropped to 2 percent in 2020. As of June, China had 346 certified, and 195 uncertified, GA airports.
Lowe said he expected to see urban air mobility (UAM) actively contributing to China’s GA market in a period as short as the next two years. “UAM will probably come to China sooner than others as there is no legacy infrastructure that they have to work around,” he explained. “Developing countries in the world jumped straight to mobile networks—they had no fixed line systems. China has the same opportunity in aviation. In Western China, Mongolia for example, these areas could see a jump straight to UAM—certainly initially for some essential services and logistics.”