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China has long way to go to build air rescue system

TIANJIN, Sept. 14 (Xinhua) --Chinawill need to spend at least 30 billion yuan (4.69 billion U.S. dollars) over the next 15 years to establish a helicopter rescue system that is capable of serving its 1.3 billion people, experts said Wednesday.

China needs to set up at least 850 helicopter rescue bases with more than 1,000 helicopters to cover its 9.6-million-sq-km territory, said Chen Ping, deputy director-general of the emergency rescue center under the Ministry of Civil Affairs, while attending the ongoing China Helicopter Development Forum in northChina's port city ofTianjin.

Chen said that general aviation aircraft, especially helicopters, are necessary for many medical rescue and disaster relief efforts.

Military helicopters were used for relief work in the aftermath of the Wenchuan and Yushu earthquakes, as well as during severe droughts in southwestChinain recent years, Chen said, adding that a civilian helicopter rescue fleet is still missing.

Wang Xia, director-general of the general aviation committee of the China Air Transport Association, saidChinahas only 160 registered civil helicopters.

"Compared to other countries of similar size, the number is too small," Wang said.

TheU.S.has 10,000 civilian helicopters, whileRussiaandCanadahave 3,000 and 1,000, respectively, Wang said.

"Chinahas a long way to go to develop its aviation rescue system," she said.

The China Helicopter Development Forum is being held as part of the first China Helicopter Exposition, which is scheduled to run from Thursday to Sunday inTianjin.

Wang Xia said that flight operations conducted by Chinese general aviation companies have not been given enough attention at local airports due to the rapid development of the country's commercial air industry.

InChina, airports are mostly built based on demand for commercial flights and their profitability. It is difficult to make money by providing space and time for smaller aircraft, such as helicopters, at the country's airports, Wang said.

According to Wang Bin, general manager of helicopter manufacturer Avicopter, only 3,000 ofChina's 24,000 civil aviation pilots are engaged in general aviation. Out of that total, only 650 are licensed to fly helicopters. In addition, support facilities such as maintenance and fueling stations are in short supply, Wang Bin said.

A mistrust of aircraft in general has also discouraged Chinese people from learning how to fly helicopters, he added.

"Due to a lack of basic aviation knowledge, many policymakers choose to spend manpower and money to do things that could have been done much easier and cheaper by using helicopters, limiting the prospects for the industry's development inChina," he said.

Wang Bin urged the government to create a distribution plan that would allow more resources to be devoted to the development of the helicopter industry.

OPPORTUNITIES STILL REMAIN

Although insiders see various challenges for the growth of the helicopter industry, economic development and social progress may prove to be the industry's saviors.

"The government has begun to attach more importance to public services and is recognizing the variety of roles that helicopters can play in fire control, disaster relief and medical rescue," said Wang Bin.

Last year, the State Council and the Central Military Commission said that part of the country's low-altitude airspace will be opened to accommodate the country's general aviation sector.

South China's islandprovinceofHainanis being used as a "trial province" as part of this policy, allowing helicopters to fly in low-altitude airspace above the island.

Wang Bin has also suggested simplifying the application procedure for general aviation approval, as the current process takes too much time for rescuers to complete.

Teng Qingxiao, the deputy president of Honliv Hospital in central China's Henan Province, said that rescue pilots have to report their altitude, destination, intended route and other information before being given permission to fly, which can take up precious time during emergency situations.