Key Points:

  • Strict controls loosened
  • Opportunities created for general aviation sector

China’s State Council and Central Military Commission jointly released the Opinion on Deepening Reform of Administration of Low-Altitude Airspace (Opinion) on 14 November 2010, announcing the relaxation of the longstanding control on China’s low-altitude airspace. The highlight of the Opinion is the opening of China’s airspace below 4,000 meters, which means flight at 4,000 meters or lower will be generally allowed. Historically, China’s airspace has been strictly controlled by the army, and any flight except for fixed civilian flight routes must be approved well in advance.

According to the Opinion, the reform will be undertaken at three stages in five to 10 years. It will go into effect first in the Shenyang and Guangzhou regions in 2011 and will be further expanded to nationwide airspace by 2015. The eventual goal is to build a comprehensive low-altitude airspace management system and put in place comprehensive regulations in this regard by 2020. The low-altitude airspace will be divided into three categories for the purposes of regulation: (1) airspace under control, where a flight must be approved; (2) airspace under surveillance, where a flight does not need approval but must be under surveillance by the authority; and (3) airspace where reporting is required only before a flight. Private investment and investment from local governments are welcome in construction of air service stations, though direct investment from the State is expected to continue to play a main role.

The general aviation sector – private aircraft and helicopters in particular – will benefit most from the new policy. Observers predict that China’s private aircraft market will expand by 20 to 25 percent annually over the next 10 years, and the market potential is believed to be no less than RMB 1 trillion. It is expected that related sectors such as airport construction, pilot training, low-altitude airspace tour, private aircraft maintenance, and aircraft and components manufacturing will also see development in the long term.

This Opinion does not take the form of a law, and we anticipate further rules will be drafted and issued by respective airspace administration authorities in different regions to implement the reform envisioned by the Opinion.