The American Chamber of Commerce in China has begun a study into the country's business and general aviation market to help Beijing liberalise its policies further.

A committee comprising manufacturers, operators and airlines will complete the report in April and submit it to the government, says Jason Liao, Hawker Beechcraft's representative in China and co-chairman of the chamber's aerospace forum.

"We are looking at the ways in which China can relax its rules. We want to help it realise how aviation works in places like the USA, and the economic benefits it brings. China has done much in the last few years, and its rules are even more relaxed than countries like Japan and India. But much more can be done and we want to help."

The study is partly funded by a $1.68 million grant from the USA's Trade and Development Agency. The grant is being used to study China's aviation market structure, examine the growing demand in regional China aviation markets, train senior management for Chinese civil aviation and develop larger air traffic management systems.

Three challenges the report is likely to look into are the high fees faced by foreign-registered aircraft, a lack of proper infrastructure, and the tight control of China's airspace by its military. These issues were also at the forefront of discussion at last week's ABACE event in Hong Kong.

Liao says the system that makes foreign-registered aircraft pay up to seven times more for landing, overflight and "compensation" fees is under review. Although China is unlikely to scrap the fees altogether, it could reduce them gradually over a five-year period until they are uniform, he says. A decision could be made later this year.

Steps are also being taken to address the lack of proper infrastructure, with the opening of China's first fixed-base operation in Beijing last year. The second, in Shanghai, is likely to start up around September and the third, in Shenzhen, could begin operations towards the end of 2009. The shortage of maintenance facilities is somewhat alleviated by the proximity of Hong Kong, where companies such as Metrojet can provide such services.

Tackling the lack of access to airspace will prove much more complex. The People's Liberation Army exercises tight control, and it will take a decision at the top of Beijing's political hierarchy to change this. "Only China's president can order the military to relax its control, but that requires manoeuvres within the country's complex power structure and the PLA remains a major force," says a long-time operator of business jets in China.

The Beijing Olympics in August could be a chance for the industry to show what it can do, say some. "By smoothly bringing in visitors to China during the Olympics, it would be easier to convince the authorities that more should be done to ease the process," says one operator.

Source: Flight International