Over the next few years, China plans to invest a quarter of a trillion dollars to turn itself into an aviation superpower. The country hosts more than two-thirds of the airports now under construction around the world with plans to expand 91 of 175 current facilities and to build 56 airports from the ground up.
Any description of the country’s plans will typically point straight up:
- According to the International Air Transport Association, 296 million passengers and 11 million metric tons of freight traveled to, within and from China on aircraft.
- Based on current trends, the domestic Chinese market alone for air travel is expected to double in size about every eight years.
- Beijing’s Capital International Airport is the second busiest in the world. But only about 15 million passengers separate it from the world’s busiest, Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
- In 2010 the world’s three largest cargo airports were Hong Kong International; Memphis International (home to FedEx); and Shanghai Pudong International – with traffic up 20 percent from the year before at Hong Kong and Shanghai versus a 6 percent increase at Memphis.
- It will be the biggest growth market for Boeing and Airbus, though China is investing heavily in developing home-grown rivals in the hope of dominating the aviation markets of the 21st century.
But as expansive as China’s aviation market may seem, it’s still a veritable baby in the crib and starts out well behind the United States and the rest of the developed world:
- The country’s commercial airline fleet numbered about 2,600 in 2010, half as many as America’s number, but with a population four times as large.
- The United States has more than 1,000 airports available for commercial aviation and 4,000 airports for general aviation and corporate jets. China, meanwhile, operates 175 airports and since, technically, the air space belongs to the military, it has limited general aviation or private jet traffic.
GSE IN CHINA
No matter how far behind they may start, the Chinese have a habit of catching up quickly and decidedly in their own particular fashion. When the government first began its economic reforms in 1980s, it did so with “Chinese characteristics,” meaning adopting Western business standards, but in a distinctly Chinese way.
To help us understand these characteristics for the Chinese aviation market in general and the GSE market in particular, we talked with Francis Chao, a Taiwanese-American consultant, who runs Uniworld, a marketing firm in Pittsburg, CA, and who spoke about the market at our AviationPros LIVE event held earlier this month in Las Vegas.
“Everything is happening very, very fast in China,” Chao says. “No one knows exactly what the Chinese are doing and they’re not talking.”
Chao’s been doing his part to find out what’s going on in China and to get people talking since the late-1990s when he sensed that the aviation market could soar in China.
At the time, Chao was working for the U.S. Department of Defense, FAA and other agencies as a contractor offering interpretation and other support services in dealing with businesses in Hong Kong, Taiwan and China.
Chao initially put his energies into promoting general aviation in China and decided he could play a role fostering relationships between China’s emerging aviation industry with established commercial counterparts in the United States:
- In 1998, he published the first edition of the quarterly Chinese-English China Civil Aviation Report, “We started out just copying pages with an office copier,” he says. “And now it’s a full-color magazine.”
- In 2001, he started organizing an annual forum on general aviation that included Western industries and their Chinese counterparts to discuss aviation’s future in China.
- Also in 2001, he made his first trip to the Experimental Aircraft Association’s popular AirVenture show in Oshkosh, WI, escorting a delegation from the Civil Aviation Administration of China as part of an FAA project. He also produced and distributed 40,000 copies of a 130-page guide printed in Chinese called “What Is General Aviation?” In this case, Chao borrowed an idea from the General Aviation Manufacturers Association, which published a similar guide 40 years ago to promote general aviation in the United States.
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