Aviation in Chongqing got its start in the early 1940s, when the city served as an important base for the 1st American Volunteer Group, popularly known as the Flying Tigers, which came to aid China against Japanese aggression during World War II.
Decades later, the city looks to the sky again. It will establish a general aviation industrial park in Liangjiang New Area as one component of an industrial transformation.
General aviation covers all flights other than commercial airlines and the military, and includes such activities as private flights, air ambulance services, police aviation and air charter services.
The 8-square-kilometer industrial park has already attracted 31 foreign aviation enterprises, including the Swiss aircraft manufacturer Pilatus Aircraft and the US helicopter manufacturer Enstrom Helicopter Corp. Thirteen enterprises have been set up by the Chongqing government.
Enstrom was acquired by Chongqing General Aviation Industry Group Co in 2012. Two helicopter assembly lines in Chongqing are expected to assemble five choppers this year and produce 50 helicopters annually in the future.
The company, which sold 26 helicopters globally in 2013, plans to sell 40 this year, said Wu Jisen, vice-president of Chongqing General Aviation Industry Group Co.
Pilatus has also set up two production lines in Chongqing for its fixed-wing aircraft, the PC-6 and PC-12 passenger and cargo planes.
For the city, transforming the industrial structure and developing new industries is urgent.
Chongqing is an important industrial base in China, known as the country's largest motorcycle manufacturing base. But its export volume of motorcycles has declined because of the gloomy global economy in recent years, pushing the government to look to a new path.
Although Chongqing is not a traditional aviation base, it can make use of its industrial advantages in aviation materials and parts manufacturing, said Ling Yueming, director general of the Administrative Committee of Liangjiang New Area.
General aviation is believed to be a new growth point after China decided to relax its control on low-altitude airspace - below 1,000 meters - in 2010.
More than 20 provincial areas or cities, including Chongqing, have devised plans to explore the general aviation industry. But the boom has yet to come, and more efforts are needed before local governments will see the industry bring real economic benefits, said Yang Fengtian, an academician at the Chinese Academy of Engineering.
Yang, who is also president of Shenyang Aerospace University, said China still has not solved many of the problems associated with the management of general aviation.
Creative mechanisms must be established to let local governments, not civil aviation authorities, lead the development of local general aviation, he said.
He said he believes that only an industry that involves wide public participation can really boom. In the United States, there are at least 240,000 general aviation aircraft, 70 percent of which are privately owned for entertainment.
Efforts should be made to attract people, such as white-collar workers and college students, to join flight clubs and study how to pilot an aircraft for fun, he said.
Li Yinghong, an academician at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, said Chongqing has done it right in emphasizing professional training, which will be the city's big advantage as it develops general aviation.
The industrial park in Liang-jiang New Area includes at least two schools for training pilots.
Chongqing Aviation Vocation School, a private school, has been recruiting students since September 2012. It has 300 students.
The Chongqing General Aviation Training Co, co-founded by the Civil Aviation Flight University of China and the Chongqing General Aviation Industry Group in 2012, will start to recruit students this year.
With programs for private pilot and commercial pilot licensing, as well as aircraft maintenance training, the school aims to certify 300 pilots and 500 maintenance personnel each year.
The industry will be short more than 3,000 pilots within the coming five years, said Chen Bin, a researcher with the Sino-US joint venture Easyfly Aviation.
Chongqing has an ambitious plan. According to authorities in Liangjiang New Area, the general aviation industry is expected to bring a total production value of 300 billion yuan ($48 billion) a year to the municipality by 2020.
It's an auspicious start for the home of the Flying Tigers.
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An Enstrom helicopter assembled in Chongqing is on its way to an exhibition in May. Chongqing General Aviation Industry Group Co acquired the US helicopter manufacturer Enstrom in 2012. Li Wenbin / for China Daily
(China Daily 06/24/2014 page6)
Chongqing lies at the convergence of the Yangtze and Jialing rivers.