GA operations to and within China
Ground handling prices are high but bizjet visits to China are generally a bit easier now than they have been in past years.
By Grant McLaren
Hong Kong Business Aviation Centre is a superb facility but HKG (Hong Kong) is currently the most challenging location for GA parking in the region. More and more operators are opting to land and/or reposition to either MFM (Macau) or the Chinese mainland.
While general aviation (GA) operations to China have gotten easier to set up over recent years, there are still assorted challenges to consider. In spite of benefiting from shorter permit lead times, reduced documentation requirements and improved bizav support infrastructure, operators still run into parking issues such as at PEK (Beijing, China), SHA (Shanghai Hongqiao, China) and PVG (Shanghai Pudong, China). Airport slot scheduling can also be difficult to arrange on occasion. In general, China is a less flexible flying environment for GA than many other international regions, and operators need to be mindful of this.
On the positive side, ease of ops to China has steadily and noticeably improved. Universal Weather Trip Owner David Saunders says, "The operating environment in China has become friendlier toward business aviation as the country continues to adapt to more efficient procedures. Permits can be obtained expeditiously and handling support infrastructure continues to improve, but you've got to understand the regulations as things must be done in a certain way and Chinese government aviation authorities are stringent on having GA operators follow all procedures and protocols."
ITPS Ops Mgr Ben Fuller concurs that clients are finding China ops easier and more straightforward these days. "Even though there's more congestion and volume on airways and at airports, we're usually able to obtain the slots times operators prefer," he declares. "China has definitely become more GA-friendly with improved infrastructure and better relationships between CAA and international support providers (ISPs)."
China is currently investing billions of dollars in the construction of new provincial airports, along with a new 2nd international airport for Beijing. The Wall Street Journal reports that China plans to have 260 commercial airports by 2020 – up from the 207 tallied by the end of 2015.
That said, the aviation environment remains more limited than in many other regions in terms of operating flexibility. "Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) normally allows no more than 2 revisions to an approved permit before you'll need to reapply and start a new permit application," explains UAS Regional Ops Mgr Duke LeDuc. "GA operators with foreign-registered aircraft are limited to no more than 6 flight legs per entry into China.
And there are peak hour slot restrictions in place from 8 am to 10 pm at 5 airports – PEK, SHA, PVG, CAN (Guangzhou, China) and SZX (Shenzhen, China). During these peak hour periods you're permitted only 1 arrival or departure. This can complicate flight planning and crew duty day considerations. If you land at PEK at 9 am, for example, you will not be able to take off or reposition until after 10 pm."
LeDuc also reports that CAAC just published a new mandate that puts a curfew on GA slots at SHA from 7 am to 9:59 pm. Additionally, no GA takeoffs/landings at SHA are permitted from midnight to 5:59 am. This means that the only available GA slots for SHA are from 6 am to 6:59 am and from 10 pm to 11:59 pm.
Permit applications and revisions
For Part 91 operations, ISPs recommend 5 days lead time for landing permits and 3 days for overflight permits. Should you require a charter permit, however, plan on 15 business days lead time along with an extensive list of required documentation. LeDuc points out, however, that most traditional charter ops are considered private in China. "Any GA aircraft with less than 30 seats is generally considered the same as a private flight, and CAAC usually issues a private flight landing permit," he adds.
Last year China did away with sponsor letter requirements, formerly an essential part of the permit process. "While they still like you to provide a business contact, you no longer need to submit a formal sponsor letter when operating to airports of entry. If you're operating to a domestic airport, however, a formal sponsor letter still needs to be presented," points out ITPS Sr Ops Specialist Curt Kurshildgen.
Your landing permit confirmation for China also gives you slot approval. But while there's no need to make separate permit and slot requests, parking must be negotiated independently with individual airport authorities.
"Once a permit is issued it's fairly easy to make a revision to it, for which 1 business day notice is usually sufficient," says Jeppesen ITP Account Specialist Jason Cornillez. "If you have an approved permit, be mindful that you'll only be allowed 2 revisions. In the case of a permit request that's not yet approved, we recommend submitting a new request if a change or revision is needed, prior to original permit approval."
"In some cases it may be possible to succeed in making more than 2 permit revisions, but this is never guaranteed," says World Fuel Sr Support Specialist Ryan Cai. "If the revision is not major – perhaps a schedule change of 1 to 2 hours – the additional revision might not be an issue. But it's best to have your local handler try to negotiate this with CAAC to make any revision beyond the 2 allowed."
Be aware that permit processing services are not available during holiday periods. For example, CAAC offices typically close for extended periods of time in January or February during the annual Lunar New Year and no new permit requests will be entertained.
Asian Business Aviation Convention and Exhibition (ABACE), held at SHA (Hongqiao, Shanghai, China), has become a leading bizav event and showcase in the region. China's locally-based business aviation fleet remains in growth mode.
While slots and access to even the busiest airports in China are usually not problematic and certainly much easier to obtain than for HKG (Hong Kong), overnight and longer term parking in mainland China may be an issue. "PVG restricts GA parking to no more than 48 hours. But SHA limits parking to 5 days, in the case of Chinese-registered aircraft, and 3 days for foreign-registered aircraft," notes LeDuc.
"In terms of parking, PEK is currently the most challenging location in China," says Saunders. "You'll only be able to get official parking approval just for 1 overnight, but you're usually able to negotiate a parking extension once you arrive. Over the past year or so, we've been successful in over 90% of our requests for extended parking approval. But parking turndowns do happen and you may need to reposition to TSN."
Best parking alternate for PEK is TSN (Tianjin, China), while preferred alternates for PVG and SHA are HGH (Xiaoshan, China) and NKG (Nanjing, China), respectively.
If your destination is Hong Kong and you're not able to secure slots and parking for either HKG or MFM (Macau), SZX can be considered as a practical parking alternate. "It's a lot easier to get slots and parking at SZX than HKG these days," explains Kurshildgen. "We have clients who use SZX as a parking alternate for HKG.
Parking at SZX is usually not a problem. Overland transport is available to Hong Kong from there and, as long as you have multientry China visas, there should be no issues."
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