A major port and industrial hub in eastern China says there must be “a sense of urgency” in the development of its general aviation industry, following a series of setbacks in Beijing’s bid to become a key player in the global civil aviation market. “[We will] broaden our horizons, innovate and actively learn from the experience of advanced provinces and cities,” the government of Ningbo, in Zhejiang province, said in a report outlining its plans. The report, posted to the local government website on Thursday, said Ningbo had failed to build any airports specialising in general aviation flights, citing the military’s control of China’s airspace, and an abundance of bureaucracy when dealing with the provincial government and the aviation regulator – all of which are involved in such approvals. General aviation refers to flights other than those of the military or scheduled airlines, and it includes light aircraft such as private jets and helicopters. “Both the pre- and post-approval process is strict, and it takes a long time to go through,” the report said, adding that the construction of a new airport in Hangzhou Bay had been postponed for nearly seven years as a result. Its construction finally started last year, according to Ningbo authorities. How US tech restrictions leave China’s aviation aspirations up in the air The difficulties highlighted by the Ningbo government reflect similar challenges facing other regions when it comes to helping China grow its general aviation industry into a major player – an intention outlined in Beijing’s economic plans. Local governments play an important role in developing supply chains and new industries, and they help bring foreign investment to China. But many have been blamed for wasteful spending, as well as controversial trade practices. Ningbo’s report also said that a lack of general aircraft manufacturers, weak demand for general aviation services and slow progress in deregulating airspace for civilian use have stalled the development of the industry there. “General aviation in Ningbo is still in its infancy. Due to the lag in the construction of the general aviation airport, it mainly operates helicopters in scattered areas, and its business scope is limited to air tours and temporary emergency rescues,” the report said. It went on to explain how general aviation is bogged down by “layers of approvals, multiple steps and high coordination costs”. “It is difficult to satisfy the demand for mobility and timeliness in general aviation, and this restricts the industry’s development,” the report added. Ningbo’s assessment also comes amid China’s failure to meet its general aviation goals set forth in its 13th five-year plan (2016-20). According to the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC), the current number of certified general aviation airports is 339 – far fewer than the 500 anticipated when the plan was published in 2016. China also has just 2,892 registered general aviation aircraft, compared with 3,500 called for in the same development plan. Shenzhen to see more cross-border, low-altitude flights under new plan As a result, those same targets for airports and planes have been carried over into the 14th five-year plan (2021-25). To boost its competitiveness, the report said the Ningbo government would propose to Zhejiang province for an application to join a pilot programme for low-altitude flights. The report also suggests offering subsidies to encourage local private companies to acquire and invest in foreign firms that can introduce advanced technology into China’s aviation manufacturing. Growth prospects for China’s general aviation remain robust, according to the International Trade Administration in the US, as the central government has committed to gradually allow access to low-altitude airspace, and to streamline the examination, approval and record-keeping requirements for general aviation flights. The ITA said last year that general aviation flying hours in China were expected to reach 6.3 million hours by 2035, up from 1.06 million hours in 2019 and 984,000 hours in 2020 amid the coronavirus pandemic.