May 28, 2020
When it comes to flying into the world’s largest country, Hong Kong-based G650 captain Nat Iyengar stressed one principle above all others.
“Practice your art of Zen and be patient,” he advised China-bound aviators. While many pain points can’t be avoided – including severe slot restrictions and unavoidable delays – a well-prepared operator can minimize headaches, both during flight and on the ground.
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By the Book
“The Chinese controllers have a playbook, they don’t deviate from that playbook and you have to accept that’s how it is,” said Iyengar.
The Chinese aviation system is known for its rigidity, making it critical that operators adhere to documented procedures. One example is phraseology – Iyengar noted there have been issues with pilots using slang that’s unrecognized by most Chinese air traffic controllers, who “only know English as far as ICAO phraseology.”
Iyengar cautioned that this also applies to flight routes, which will almost never be allowed to change. Though there may appear to be open corridors cutting through the country’s amount of restricted airspace, it’s exceedingly rare that operators receive permission to use them.
“You’re routing is locked – you’re not going to get much leeway when you ask to cut across a corner,” he said.
Restricted Slots Require Flexibility
The scarcity of available slots at Chinese airports has been a grievance of the general aviation community for years.
“There’s just not a whole lot of room at nice times of the day,” said Rich Nath, training product manager with World Fuel Services.
In Beijing and Shanghai airports, a business aircraft cannot occupy two peak hour slots from 0900 to 2159 local time. (All Chinese flight permits are issued in Chinese local time, not Zulu– “Make sure you’re looking at your permits and confirming that,” said Nath).
Beijing Daxing International Airport (PKX) is not yet open to general aviation, meaning operators will still feel the squeeze when flying into the nation’s capital. Proactive measures to take to avoid slot headaches include planning missions to take place in the middle of the night, and filing well in advance of your flight to give yourself the potential for a successful resubmission.
“Get the slot you can get; maybe it’s not the one you want but you’ve got one,” advised Nath. “Over time as people cancel, keep resubmitting and you can improve that slot.”
Patience is Key
Part of the standard Chinese flying experience is delays. Iyengar cautions that given the unavoidable, and unpredictable, nature of these delays, operators should be careful when planning missions.
“Just accept that there are going to be delays from the outset,” he said. “Don’t let your passengers schedule tight turns or meeting arrival/departures – the chances you’re going to depart on your exact slot time are a roll of the dice.”
The final stages of the journey can be a particularly laborious process, making it critical to set appropriate expectations with passengers. Chinese airports are relatively inflexible when it comes to the runways used for landing and takeoff, so operators will often need to take a roundabout path to the FBO.
“On the ground will be the biggest test of your patience,” said Iyengar. “Long taxi rides up to 40 minutes are not uncommon.”