On June 11, 2008, the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) issued new licensing procedures for foreign air transport companies (FATCs) that plan to operate flight routes in China. The provisions took effect on July 11, 2008 and repealed the temporary 1996 CAAC provisions of Order No.243. The procedures apply to both passenger and cargo transportation. These procedures also govern FATCs from Hong Kong, Macau, and Taiwan.

The Licensing Rules for Flight Routes of Foreign Air Transport Companies (????????????????, CAAC Order No.192, the Licensing Rules) more specifically detail the requirements of the Civil Aviation Law. In order to maintain a flight route into China, a FATC must abide by the bilateral civil air transport agreement between China and its own foreign government, must receive official designation from its own government, possess a CAAC operating license, and also operate in accordance with its operating license and approved flight schedule.

A FATC must file an application for an initial flight route at least 60 days prior to the flight’s anticipated start date. The Licensing Rules require the following documentation for an operating license: 

  1. official designation from the FATC’s home country’s government; 
  1. Air Operator Certificate (AOC) from the competent foreign civil aviation authority; 
  1. enterprise registration certificate; 
  1. articles of association, or a certificate issued by the foreign enterprise registration agency that provides equivalent information; 
  1. passenger and cargo transport resources; 
  1. general business introduction, contact information, and enterprise codes assigned by international aviation organizations; 
  1. wet-lease agreement documentation required under the bilateral air transport or other relevant agreements; 
  1. any other necessary documentation under PRC law or the bilateral air transport agreement.

After receiving an operating license, a FATC needs only to submit items 1, 7, and 8 to apply for an additional route. The Licensing Rules also entail procedures for submitting updates to items 2–7 to the CAAC, and renewing FATCs operating terms.

The Licensing Rules impose an obligation to submit summer-fall and winter-spring flight schedules for CAAC approval. Flight schedules must be submitted at least 60 days before the start of the next seasonal period. The flight schedule must contain all relevant information including flight route, number of flights, schedule, flight number, type of aircraft, number of wetleased planes, and whether code-sharing will be utilized. FATCs are only allowed to alter flight schedules with the approval of the CAAC, regardless of the reason for the change. However, the Licensing Rules provide an expedited approval process for temporary changes due to weather, aircraft failure, or similar reasons.

A FATC must have a clear understanding of the bilateral air transport agreement between its own government and China’s, and about other relevant agreements. These agreements may prevail over some provisions of the Licensing Rules, particularly timing requirements. Moreover, a FATC must thoroughly examine its domestic air transport regulations on foreign carriers. Since the CAAC adheres to the principle of reciprocity, any unreasonable restrictions on Chinese air transport companies will be equally imposed on a FATC operating in China.

The standard penalty for violation of the Licensing Rules includes a warning and/or a fine of no more than RMB 300,000. For serious violations, the CAAC may also suspend or cancel the license. In addition, the relevant authorities will prosecute any criminal acts.