China’s New Status Symbol: A Pilot’s License

1,600 Official Private Pilot Licensees Currently In China

A new love for China's rich.

Private aviation is new to China, but catching on quickly (a little too quickly for the government)

As Jing Daily has noted before, as luxury cars and villas have become the norm for the wealthiest of the wealthy in China, many have looked to buy another, far more exclusive, ultra-luxury item: a private jet. Although China has nearly 100 legally registered private jets, it is believed that there are 300 or more currently criss-crossing the country (either legally or illegally). Counted among China’s burgeoning jet-set are scores of business execs and entrepreneurs, Hong Kong media mogul Run Run Shaw, actor and comedian Zhao Benshan and celebrities like filmmaker Feng Xiaogang, actress Fan Bingbing and actor Chen Daoming.

But with the development of China’s private aviation industry has come another status symbol: a pilot’s license. Despite pricey training costs, which range between 60,000-80,000 yuan (US$9,278-12,371) — upwards of three times the country’s annual per capita GDP — ChinaLuxus noted this week that 1,600 budding pilots have already obtained official licenses in China, with the site suggesting that the actual number is far higher. Sort of a frightening prospect, but someone has to pilot the much-discussed “black flights” taking place across the country.

At present, provinces like Heilongjiang, Guangdong and Hainan have opened low-altitude flight space, with much of China projected to make more airspace become available as early as 2015. Despite these restrictions, demand for pilot training has increased gradually since the opening of China’s first private flight school in the 1990s, with wealthier individuals in the country’s top-tier cities now signing up for lessons as a recreational or lifestyle activity.

But getting an official license is neither cheap nor easy. At the Civil Aviation Flight University of China in Guanghan, Sichuan province, students pay 70,000 yuan (US$10,825) in training fees, and must complete 40-45 days of continuous study as well as more than 35 hours of actual flight time. Still, the university’s regulations and comparatively high cost of training, as well as the broader regulations that accredited pilots must go through before their first licensed flight, may partly explain the proliferation of “unofficial” pilots. According to industry sources, before flying legally, new pilots must take three steps, as proscribed by civil aviation law: First pilots need an official license issued by the Civil Aviation Administration of China; Second, pilots need a secondary pilot’s license issued by “relevant departments” in their region; Finally, a pilot needs to get permission for their flight plan from all air traffic control departments.

With these measures in place, and so much red tape to cut through, it’s almost no surprise so many pilots and private jet owners in China would rather pay the fines, which the New York Times noted “can range up to 100,000 renminbi, or about $15,400.”

 

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