China's rich fly high in 200 jets despite ban

Posted by Wendy Zhou on 6. Aug 2010

early 200 private planes are owned by China's billionaires even though the country's low-altitude airspace is not open and most private flying is deemed illegal, Guangzhou Daily reported Tuesday.

Low-altitude flying is currently under strict control by the Civil Aviation Administration and the Air Force, and any application of low-flying aircraft must go through a complex and time-consuming approval process usually involving several governmental departments.

China's rich, who have become tired of driving luxury cars, are now turning their eyes to owning private planes. But the complexity of the approval process for every single flight motivates them to deliberately violate current regulations and then pay a fine that is pale in comparison with their wealth.

"I have already owned my planes, what shall I do then?" said Xu Weijie, owner of 11 privates planes. "China's laws only regulate public planes and military planes, and there are no specific rules regarding private planes," Xu said.

Xu was caught illegally flying above his hometown in Wenzhou of East China's Zhejiang province on April 23 this year, and his plane was temporarily taken over by local civil aviation administration and he was fined 29,000 yuan ($4,300).


The 33-year old Wenzhou merchant has long been interested in planes. He joined a model-plane team in Wenzhou in 1993 while in high school. In December 2005 when he was only 27 years old, he organized a private plane promotion fair in Wenzhou where 22 private firms signed agreements to buy a plane each.

Shortly after the fair he set up a flying club and invited many Wenzhou merchants to join. He also opened a 4S store to sell private planes in Hangzhou and built a plane manufacturing factory in Xi'an.

"I didn't expect to earn money by private planes," Xu said, adding flying a plane is only an interest as well as a means to be social.

Xu said his flying club has over 10,000 members, and he got to know many famous people while having fun flying a plane.

Guangzhou Daily said there are currently two kinds of private plane owners: those who report to the aviation departments each time before flying and those who don't report and fly illegally. Because of the complexity of the approval process, most people like Xu choose not to report.

Illegal flying has caused many problems for China's aviation industry. In April this year, Xu's illegal flying above a tourism resort in Zhejiang caused the delay of many flights at Shanghai's Pudong and Hongqiao airports and forced some planes to land on other airports.

On July 7, nearly 20 flights were delayed at Hangzhou's Xiaoshan International Airport due to an unidentified flying object, or UFO. An expert team went to Hangzhou to investigate the matter and only to find the UFO was a private plane that didn't report to the aviation department before taking off.

Jin Qiansheng, director of the managing committee of Xi'an Yanliang National Aviation Hi-Tech Industrial Base, said China is expected to open up its low-altitude airspace in two to three years and after that the country's private plane industry will surge remarkably.

Yanliang industrial base was approved by the country's aviation regulator last year to be the only place to pilot private flying, and now it has six flying areas for private planes over a total area of 300 sq km.

Experts have urged more regulations are needed as China's private plane industry grows rapidly despite the low-altitude airspace ban.


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