China’s economic planner intends to relax restrictions in Shenzhen’s aviation sector – a move that would help integrate the Greater Bay Area ’s transport network, according to experts. As part of its latest series of reforms for the southern metropolis, the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC) said it will “deepen” a pilot programme for low-altitude airspace management in the Greater Bay Area while also enhancing the management of low-altitude flights in Guangdong province, Hong Kong and Macau. The plan, outlined in new guidelines published on Wednesday, also said Shenzhen will develop various types of general aviation services, such as cross-border helicopter flights and short-distance travel options. David Yu, an aviation financing expert and a professor of finance at New York University Shanghai, said the low-altitude flight management is a highlight of the plan, as it could spur growth in general aviation and private air travel. In aviation, low-altitude flying occurs below 1,000 feet (305 metres). Helicopters, for example, can be flown at low altitudes. Airbus plans China aircraft ‘life cycle’ hub spanning 100 football pitches China’s airspace is largely controlled by the military , even as commercial aviation has been expanding rapidly over the past decade. As a result, the restriction of airspace for civilian use has long been blamed for chronic delays in domestic flights. “One of the things they have been trying to do is open up low-altitude airspace so there are more possibilities for general aviation – that’s one area the government is trying to push,” Yu said. “I think the [aviation part of the] plan will help integrate areas such as commerce, inter-connectivity and cargo flights, which will also develop the service industry in areas such as investment and insurance.” Guo Wanda, vice-president of the Shenzhen-based China Development Institute – a think tank affiliated with the Guangdong government – said that the relaxation of restrictions could also provide new opportunities for Hong Kong-based air carriers. The NDRC plan did not provide details on how cross-border flights would operate but said it would “explore the airspace management of Guangdong, Hong Kong and Macau and the collaborative management of air-traffic-control operations to effectively improve the efficiency of airspace use in the Greater Bay Area ”. There had been signs that the Chinese government was warming up to the idea of relaxing its airspace restrictions for commercial flights. In April, state media reported on a major leadership shake-up at the Central Air Traffic Management Committee, putting it under the direction of Vice-Premier Han Zheng. Han said China needed to address weaknesses in its air-traffic management, and that it must move forward with necessary reforms. Shanghai to be centre of China’s ‘civil aviation industrial ecosystem’ by 2025 His oversight of the commission illustrates how important air-traffic management has become in China. The commission is a central government body, while the existing air-traffic control body – the Air Traffic Control Commission – operates under the Central Military Commission. Separately, the NDRC said in its new plan that Shenzhen will further deepen and expand a pilot programme for unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) flight management, and this should cut the time needed for application approvals, including by civilians who wish to fly drones. Additionally, there are plans to introduce freight-transport routes for drones and unmanned ships between Shenzhen and Zhuhai.