By Hu Tao, Nick Yates
ZHUHAI, Guangdong, Nov.18 (Xinhua) -- Chen Yilong is often found relaxing in his private jet, the real estate tycoon safe in the knowledge that his executive mode of transport lets him get about and keep his empire ticking over. But his peace of mind is only secured by one fact: a road vehicle carrying aviation fuel follows below, ready to step in if China's official refuelling facilities prove inadequate.
It's a common situation for Chen and other airborne members of China's super-rich. As they've increasingly bought their own planes and taken to the skies, the country's aviation industry and regulation have struggled to keep up.
That's why air traffic authorities have just announced the relaxation of a ban on the use of low-altitude airspace on a trial basis from January 2012. Speaking at Thursday and Friday's International Forum on China Business/General Aviation in the city of Zhuhai, Guangdong province, aviation official Zhu Shicai said airspace below 1,000 meters in northeast, central and south China, as well as six pilot cities, will be opened to general aviation flights.
Luckily for Chen, his native Xi'an, in northwest China's Shaanxi province, is one of the pilot cities, along with Tangshan, Qingdao, Hangzhou, Ningbo and Kunming.
The move should see China's burgeoning market for private flying really take off. With investment pouring in, it's likely that more general aviation airports and related facilities will be built. Much of the red tape that Chen and his fellow winged elite have had to negotiate in order to fly legitimately will also be cut.
"Every Chinese nouveau riche who tries to fly has had illegal 'black flying' experiences. The news of expanding low-altitude airspace makes us excited and relieved," says Chen, the first to buy a private plane in Xi'an.
According to Zhu Shicai, the area of low-altitude airspace to be opened in this move accounts for 31.6 percent of China's total land territory.
Furthermore, he added that by 2015, China will carry out nationwide reform of low-airspace control and management, and draw up a set of management and supervision policies.
"More importantly, it signals China's determination to boost general aviation as its strategic new industry," Chen says, adding that every global enterprise involved in the aviation industry will be cheered by the news.
Despite owning one four-seater jet and one commercial aircraft, Chen hasn't really been able to enjoy the thrill of flying in China, where every private flight requires a lengthy approval procedure under strict regulations. His private jet was only approved to fly for a sum total of 2.5 hours throughout the whole of 2010.