Beijing aims to give aviation a lift by streamlining the time it takes to approve low-altitude flights for private and commercial jets. The air traffic control commission of the State Council and the Central Military Commission agreed to simplify flight approvals for general aviation next year, the PLA Daily reported yesterday. The changes, which apply to all civilian flights except those by scheduled passenger airlines, will be covered in national aviation legislation due to be drafted next year. The mainland has 226 general aviation companies and 1,786 general aircraft, according to the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC). The number of aircraft is expected to surpass 5,000 in six years, with an annual growth of 19 per cent, the CAAC's deputy director Wang Zhiqing told Xinhua. General aircraft, which range from helicopters to private jets, are designed to operate mainly in low-altitude airspace - 1,000 metres or below - but getting off the ground is not easy because the airspace is tightly controlled by the military. Any application for such flights, including ones for emergency search and rescue efforts, usually needs to be approved by various authorities, including the military, the CAAC and even local governments. The report said the changes would be modelled on a trial programme launched in 12 cities, including Guangzhou and Shenyang , which takes the military out of the approval process. Military and aviation experts said the country was opening up its low-altitude airspace but the process would take at least another decade because it needed a more sophisticated air surveillance and control system. "China is trying to catch up with the global trend [to open low-altitude airspace], but its defences lag behind," Ministry of Transport search-and-rescue pilot Li Jia said. Yue Gang, a Beijing-based commentator on military affairs, agreed the authorities needed to install a more advanced radar system to keep track of all the jets flying at low altitude. "Military radars have limits in detecting objects flying at low altitude. Our existing radar system would have so many blind spots once we opened up the low-altitude airspace," Yue said. He also said that PLA interceptors - which respond to aviation dangers - were not designed to track smaller and slower general aircraft. "It's like asking a racing car to follow a three-wheeled truck," Yue said.