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

Ground handling, fuel, credit and security

SZX (Shenzhen, China) is located just 21 nm from HKG and is a much easier location to arrange airport slots and parking. To use this alternate, however, you'll need additional permits as well as multientry visas to China.

Several lager Chinese airports have either FBOs or GA terminals, while others have handlers who work out of the main terminal. With an increasing number of bizav operations to China and a growing locally-operated fleet of Chinese-registered business aircraft, familiarity with the unique needs of the GA industry is expanding.

"The local GA industry in China has been developing over recent years, with improving infrastructure and more efficient support systems," says Cai. "While major airports of entry have good facilities, smaller airport locations may not be as effective in supporting GA. It's important for operators to engage closely with local ground handlers to ensure everything goes smoothly."

Fuel uplifts, for both tech and destination stops, are typically prompt and efficient with pricing that's generally less than in North America or Europe. Cai recommends carrying a fuel release, confirming that credit is available, and providing the local handler with a copy of the release prior to the day of operation.

Security is good at all major airports in China and most operators do not feel the need to arrange for private aircraft guard services, but if you wish to have an aircraft guard, this can be arranged. Note, however, that armed guards or security airside is normally only possible for diplomatic flights.

Curfews, direction restrictions and hold-downs

Airport operating curfews are relatively common at major airports in China. At 21 airports in China, including the 5 with peak hour operating restrictions, no takeoff or landing slots are available daily between 7 am and 9 am local. While NKG is open 24 hours for domestic flights, it only accepts international ops from 8:30 am to 11 pm. And no GA slots are available at either SHA or PVG between 7 to 9 am.

According to ISPs, the airport you operate to in Shanghai will be determined with regard to your inbound or outbound direction of flight. Foreign GA aircraft arriving or departing to or from East or Northeast directions are not permitted to use SHA.

From time to time, operators report being held down to non-preferred altitudes while transiting Chinese airspace. "Permits for China always require entry and exit points and routings, and there are times when you'll be held down to non-optimal levels," explains LeDuc. "You cannot always plan on max range capability as you may be held down to under FL400 at times."

Domestic airport operation

Many, but not all, Chinese domestic airports are open to foreign-registered GA aircraft and generally have no restrictions in terms of domestic ops. "While permit lead time is essentially the same with an itinerary including domestic airport stops, you will need to determine if the domestic airfield you wish to use is open to foreign-registered operations and if parking is available there," cautions Jeppesen Vendor Relations Mgr Asia Jan Hanna. "Some domestic airports do not have published charts available and you may, in some cases, need to use a local Chinese navigator."

Cai points out that a special permit may be required for certain domestic airports and these permits may take up to 30 days to obtain.

China can also be a particularly expensive GA operating arena. "This is one of the most expensive operating environments in the world so be prepared for sticker shock," says World Fuel Global Trip Support Pete Bennett. "Parking charges, nav fees, VIP handling, short notice permit requests and compensation fees to enter Chinese airspace, it all adds up. Airport, parking and handling fees for a 1-day stop at Beijing or Shanghai can easily run more than $10,000."

Visa requirements

In the past, flightcrew members visiting China always needed "C" type crew visas when operating to that country. ISP's point out that this has changed recently with regular business visas now acceptable for entry at certain major Chinese airports. There are also opportunities for passengers to take advantage of 72 hour visa-free stays at Beijing and Shanghai airports under certain conditions.

"If you're planning on using anything other than a crew "C" visa, have your handler run this by local authorities prior to operation to ensure there will be no issues," advises LeDuc. "And, be aware that 72 hour visa-free stays only apply to certain nationalities of passengers (not crew) transiting in China. You can only request them at certain airports, they have many restrictions and may cause delays upon arrival."

ISPs are always cautioning crews on the importance of having multientry visas when operating to China. Every year crews who operate to China, often to CAN or SZX, cross the border into Hong Kong or Macau and then cannot return to the aircraft as they do not have multientry visas on hand. Note that no visas are necessary for international tech stops, so long as no passengers or flightcrew embark or disembark.

Future directions

Chinese aviation authorities seem to appreciate the utility and benefits of business aviation and are looking to improve both infrastructure and GA operating flexibility.
"We anticipate development of more FBOs over the next few years along with the opening of the new Beijing airport, located southwest of the city, in 2 to 3 years," comments Cai.

"But while the operating environment has improved, and continues to improve, there are still potential surprises facing international GA operators. This is especially true when operating to smaller or domestic airports in mainland China where additional issues need to be considered in the flight planning phase.

When operating to China it's important to have a good understanding of all local regulations, procedures and requirements and to know what you can and cannot do."

Editor-at-Large Grant McLaren has written for Pro Pilot for over 20 years and specializes in corporate flight department coverage.


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