SHENYANG, Aug. 23 (Xinhua) -- China will relax a ban on the use of low-altitude airspace across the country starting 2013, air traffic authorities said Thursday.
A series of reforms will be carried out in the coming 5 to 10 years to create an independent airspace market with some government guidance, said Zhu Shicai, an official with the state air traffic control commission.
Zhu made the remarks at the 2012 China Low-altitude Economy Summit, a two-day event that opened Thursday in Shenyang, capital of northeast China's Liaoning province.
"The upcoming reforms will clear some major obstacles in the opening up of China's low-altitude airspace," Zhu said. "In particular, it will simplify application procedures for the use of low-altitude airspace by general aviation flights, including private jets."
China has launched related pilot projects in its northeastern and central-southern regions, as well as seven pilot cities, including Tangshan near Beijing, Xi'an, Qingdao, Hangzhou, Ningbo, Kunming and Chongqing, where airspace below 1,000 meters is open to general aviation flights.
The country will further open up its low-altitude airspace nationwide in the coming decade in order to stimulate the growth of the fledgling general aviation industry, said Zhu.
Zhu said new regulations concerning airspace planning and management, as well as simplified application procedures for general aviation flights, will be issued this year.
China's low-altitude airspace is controlled by the Air Force and the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC). Private flights currently need to go through time-consuming and complicated procedures to fly in low-altitude airspace, which has hampered demand for private jets.
In case of an emergency, many private jet owners prefer to take civil aviation flights or fly illegally rather than wait for their applications to be approved -- which often comes far too late.
In November 2010, the State Council and the Central Military Commission jointly decided to open up part of the country's low-altitude airspace for the first time.
The central government said in its 12th Five-Year Plan for the 2011-2015 period that it will promote the general aviation industry's development and reform the airspace management system, as well as increase the efficiency of the allocation and utilization of airspace resources.
"The new policies will make it easier and faster for general aviation flights to get the green light to use low-altitude airspace," Zhu said.
The move will hopefully bring about a boom in China's general aviation industry, which could in turn fuel the country's economic growth, he said.
However, general aviation is a highly specialized industry involving hefty investment and high risks, said Yang Fengtian, an academic at the Chinese Academy of Engineering and president of Shenyang Aerospace University.
"The government should play a leading role in policy-making and industry regulation," said Yang. "In the meantime, it should draw diverse capital to foster the industry and build a sound industrial chain to ensure its sustained growth."
By so doing, the government will "pave the back roads" for general aviation and connect all of the country's large and small cities, said Craig Spence, secretary general of the International Council of Aircraft Owner and Pilot Associations.
China had about 1,100 aircraft used for general aviation purposes as of the end of last year.
By 2020, however, the country will need 10,000 to 12,000 general aviation aircraft, according to China's civil aviation authorities. Related industries will form a huge market valued at about 1 trillion yuan.