China licenced 93 new GA airports in the first half of 2018
According to the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC), the country licenced 93 new general aviation (GA) airports in the first half of 2018.
Statistics from the CAAC show that there are now 173 general aviation airports in the country, up from the 80 airports available for GA use at the end of 2017.
The airport building activity falls into line with the Chinese government’s 13th Five-Year Plan that was introduced in 2016.
Part of the plan explicitly states that the country needs to build the infrastructure needed to support widespread GA operations, well as the need to open up more low-level airspace.
China’s definition of GA is broad, but it includes business aviation as well as smaller aircraft that are in use by flying schools.
China, much like everywhere else in the world, is suffering from a shortage of pilots. This is partly due to the sheer number of commercial aircraft that it currently has in service and on order, but also because it does not have the grass-roots facilities for people who have an interest in learning to fly.
As a short-term solution, Chinese airlines have been buying up flying schools around the world. But the long-term strategy is to invest in the facilities needed internally to train pilots flying single-engine leisure aircraft right the way up to commercial airline pilots.
According to data from the International Air Transport Association, China is set to overtake the US as the world’s largest air-travel market by 2022. According to a CAAC report in 2017, China will need 5,000 new pilots per year to keep up with demand.
The report noted that, at the time, there were only 12 flying schools in the country and between them they could only train 1,200 new pilots a year.
Since the report was published, China has introduced new rules that limit the number of hours a pilot can fly per year.
Previously, pilots with Chinese airlines were allowed to fly up to 1,000 hours per year, but the new ruling that comes into effect on January 1 2020, cuts the annual flying hours to 900.
A 10% cut means that China will need to train even more pilots to cover the loss of flying hours. To try to balance that out, China will increase the retirement age for pilots from 60 to 62 years old in 2021.