Business jet manufacturers are looking to the mainland market for growth as, after years of waiting, the authorities are lifting restrictions on airspace. Makers of small business jets and helicopters are already forecasting a rise in sales. According to many forecasts, the private air-travel industry will be one of the fastest-growing sectors in the next 10 years. Airspace over the mainland - the world's third-largest country by surface area after Russia and Canada - is under strict military control, but the People's Liberation Army has loosened its iron grip over the skies. In the past, authorities needed a week's notice for approval of a private flight plan. Under new regulations, the green light can be given within a day, sometimes just a few hours. Richard Thiele, head of global sales (aerospace and aviation) at Reed Exhibitions, says most private business jet manufacturers are happy that flight-plan restrictions have been lifted by mainland authorities. 'The growth in the business jet industry is driven by China,' Thiele says. He says that in 2007, the first event to be held in Hong Kong, there were eight aircraft; in the 2009 expo there were 16; while this year, event organisers are expecting 20. The central government, which encourages its major state-owned conglomerates to invest abroad - especially in Africa, where commercial air service is patchy - has finally understood the need for private aviation. Some business jets are now able to take mainland executives from Beijing to London, Nairobi and Los Angeles without refuelling stops. Thiele says each year the growth rate in the sector is more than 30 per cent and he sees acceleration in the coming year. More than two-thirds of the 15,000 business jets in operation around the world are in the United States, while just 150 are in China. John Rosanvallon, head of Dassault Falcon, said in an interview that it will be a 'brutal' start for market players on the mainland, with clients 'immediately looking for the biggest planes'. 'Within two or three years, China will represent not one but 10 per cent of our market worldwide,' Rosanvallon predicts. In the medium term, Dassault is hoping to sell about 10 business jets a year in China, at a list price of between US$30 million and US$50 million. The French firm was not as quick to jump on the mainland market as US company Gulfstream, which says it has a 63 per cent market share in large-cabin business jets on the mainland, Hong Kong and Macau. The outlook is just as rosy for makers of helicopters and smaller jets, with Eurocopter, Bell, Robinson, Agusta and Cessna poised to enter the market. Last month, the State Council and Central Military Commission published a joint circular on the 'progressive opening' of low-altitude airspace, where such aircraft tend to fly. As with larger planes, flight plan authorisation will come more quickly - opening the skies for tourism and business trips between regions.