XI' AN, (Xinhua) -- China's general aviation industry has rosy prospects but its development remains slow.
Such a contrast between dreams and reality has resulted in mixed feelings at the China International General Aviation Convention, which closed on Sunday in Xi'an, capital of northwest China's Shaanxi province.
At the convention, Xia Xinghua, vice minister of the Civil Aviation Administration of China, said that the country currently has 178 companies, 399 airports or vertipads and 1,610 jets registered for general aviation. And the number of jets is expected to hit 10,000 by 2020, which means an annual compound growth of 22 percent.
Zhu Shicai, an official with the state air traffic control commission, said that the government was expecting general aviation to be the next driving force for the Chinese economy after the auto industry.
Since the State Council, China's cabinet, and the military authority jointly decided in November 2010 to gradually open up the country's low-altitude airspace to general aviation, various pilot projects have been launched in China, including in Xi'an and Chongqing.
General aviation, which refers to flights other than military and scheduled airline and regular cargo flights for both private and commercial purposes, has sparked Chinese people's flying dreams.
Official statistics showed that an aggregate fund of 400 million yuan (about 65.6 million U.S. dollars) has been allocated to 64 enterprises engaged in general aviation for pilot training, facilitating purchases and the support of public services such as emergency rescue, aerial shots and public promotion from the start of 2010 to the end of 2012.
As of July 31, China's Development and Reform Commission has approved 10 state-level high-tech aerospace industry bases, while 116 general aviation industrial parks are under construction or in design phases.
Early movers include the Aviation Industry Corp. of China, the country's largest state-owned aircraft producer, which has launched the China Aviation Industry General Aircraft Co., Ltd (CAIGA) in Zhuhai in an effort to build a whole industrial chain for general aviation, said Song Qingguo, vice president with the CAIGA, at the convention.
Carl Brewer, Mayor of Wichita of the United States, also promoted his city at the convention in the hopes of helping more Wichita companies enter the aviation market in China.
To tap China's burgeoning general aviation market, Brewer said his city, known as the world's aviation town, had opened the Wichita Aviation Office of China in Beijing.
Given that China currently has more than 1,000 general aircraft in use, far below the 23,000 in the United States, Gao Yuanyang, vice secretary-general with the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association of China, said that the potential of China's generation market is "really beyond imagination."
In sharp contrast with the enthusiasm, however, are the calls of industry analysts for prudent investment and the warning that the sector will remain stuck in the slow lane if deep-rooted problems are not addressed.
Song Qingguo with the CAIGA attributed the rapid rise of America's general aviation industry to the demobilization of a great deal of Air Force pilots after World War II and the steady expansion of the middle class.
In contrast, circumstances do not favor Chinese general aviation so much. "Besides the question of airspace and shortage of jets, China is facing an extreme shortfall in general aviation pilots and ground service support. All of these are decisive factors affecting when a market blowup will happen," said Song.
According to Wang Fuhou, who heads Minsheng Financial Leasing Company's aircraft leasing business in North China, industrial capital and financial institutions have lost enthusiasm when it comes to investing in the general aviation.
"An impending issue facing the industry is how to ditch the traditional concept of serving only governments and tap the potential of individuals and corporate clients. This is an irresistible trend," added Wang.
"What we are dealing with here is a very specialized sector whose development heavily depends more on professionalism and policy support," said Gao Yuanyang.
As the industry is still in its infancy stage, Mayor Brewer suggested that China should make more efforts to educate its citizens on the safety and benefits of general aviation aircraft, develop regulations for safe and efficient aircraft operations and continue to borrow the best practices worldwide.
To lure more Chinese into general aviation and cultivate a culture of flight, Song Qingguo said the CAIGA has been preparing to establish a club for aviation fans this year. By 2015, he hopes that the club will be developed into China's first nationwide aviation entity.
Although it is too early to tell when China's general aviation will enter the fast track, analysts say it is exciting to see more Chinese become passionate about flight.
"The dream of flying, of course, begins with young children and continues with the older generations," said Brewer.