Last week’s Asian Business Aviation Conference and Exhibition in Shanghai wasn’t all about glamorous jets and expensive sandwiches. Parked near the back of the static displays, an unassuming single-engined turboprop–a Cessna Caravan–was the talk of the show’s aviation geeks.
A pilot wearing an Embraer badge walked slowly around it, reminiscing about his past flying workhorse Caravans around Africa. An aviation industry journalist said simply: “You have to go up and touch it!”
The reason for the excitement was simple: It was the first Cessna Caravan to ever land at Shanghai’s Hongqiao airport, and its presence represented something of a milestone for general aviation in China.
Airport authorities, unused to such small aircraft, were initially reluctant to grant it landing slot, fearing a small, slow aircraft might disrupt the usual jet air traffic.
A late-night slot was eventually opened up, but that led to a new round of struggles as Cessna had to convince the control tower at the Caravan’s home airport near Shanghai to stay open late and clear it for takeoff.
The Caravan’s experience neatly illustrates some of the obstacles to the development of general aviation in China, where airplanes have long been clearly grouped into either military or commercial–and where, for some airports, commercial means jets only.
Much of this is simply due to familiarity, or the lack thereof. China’s air-traffic system “is used to a tiny fraction of the volume [of the US], with many orders of magnitude more of control, separation and planning,” James Fallows, national correspondent for The Atlantic and author of the forthcoming book “China Airborne,” said in an email. “The overall gap in handling complexity is just staggering to Chinese officials when they get a chance to see how things work in the United States.”
As for the Caravan, said Mr. Fallows, an instrument-rated pilot, “it would be *entirely* a non-event for one of these to land at even one of the largest and busiest U.S airports.”
Cessna described the Caravan’s arrival triumphantly. “If it wasn’t for this show and it wasn’t for us having this product, it would have never got in here,” said Scott Ernest, Cessna’s chief executive. “But by us working together with the local authorities to get the permission to bring it in, it’s pretty cool to see how we’ve changed history right there by landing this plane.”
And what’s in store for next year? One Cessna employee at the show said with a grin that he hoped to bring in an even smaller aircraft to Hongqiao, “to push the envelope even further.”
Wall Street Journal China