China Aviation Law

The Rise and Fall of Civil Aviation in the Republic of China

In 1937, one of the first airlines in China - Eurasia Airlines (欧亚航空公司) - started to recruit flight attendants for the first time.



Suitable applicants had to meet the following conditions: aged between 20-25 years of age, proper demeanor/appearance, height 1.5 m -1.7 m, weight 40-59 kg, speak Mandarin, Cantonese, English,  and read and write in English and Chinese. Because of the conditions, in January 1938, only six qualified. Over the next ten years, the number of stewardesses surged to an overwhelming level of more than 20 people.


These stewardesses were part of Eurasia airlines which started in February 1931 as a joint venture between the Nationalist Government and Lufthansa Airlines. It operated routes served by China Eastern today -- Shanghai - Lanzhou - Dihua (modern Urumqi), Peking - Guangzhou, Lanzhou - Baotou and Xi'an - Kunming and other routes.

After the start of the Second World War, the Germany forfeited its shares in the airline and in March 1943 Eurasia Airlines reorganized as the Central Air Transport Corporation (CATC - 中央航空运输公司). In 1949, CATC totaled of nearly 3,000 employees, 26 domestic and international routes and 44 aircraft.

Sian. [Eurasia Aviation Corporation.] Our magic carpet

"Two Airline Incident"

By the end of World War II, there were three major airlines in the Republic of China - CATC, China National Aviation Corporation (CNAC - 中国航空公司), and the Civil Air Transport Inc. (民航空运公司). During the latter part of the Chinese civil war, Government of the Republic of China began to  retreat to Taiwan. Civil Air Transportation was the first airline to rebase its fleet to Taiwan and continued operating out of Songshan Airport into the 1970's.

In 1948, CATC and CNAC began ferrying dozens of aircraft successively to Hong Kong. However, after the Central People's Government of China proclaimed itself the Chinese Government on October 1, 1949, the two company's general manager's - Liu Jingyi and Chen Zhuo Lin - decided that defection to communist China was a better path than retreat to Taiwan.


On the morning of November 9, 1949, they flew 12 aircraft (a CV-240, three C-46, and eight C-47) into the mainland area controlled by the Communist Party of China. Eleven aircraft flew to Tianjin. The remaining aircraft flew to Beijing where the managers were greeted by Communist Party officials and generals.

Following the two airline incident, the mangers dispatched communications to the remaining employees Hong Kong and overseas offices to join them back in China. In all, a total of 2,000 employees and 80 aircraft defected to the mainland. The managers and their defecting staff later served to form the backbone of the Civil Aviation Administration of China and the first state airline CAAC (中国民航).

Civil Air Transport Inc v. Central Air Transport Corp
[1952] 2 All Eng L. R. 733

In an effort to save the remaining CATC aircraft based in Hong Kong from the Communists, the Nationalist government sold the remaining aircraft to two Americans with the provision that the aircraft were not to be used for the transportation to or from Communist China.

This sale was followed by an action to quiet title in the local Hong Kong court. The action made its way to the Supreme Court of Hong Kong who ruled that because the British Government recognized the Communist Government as the Government of China the transaction was invalid.

However, upon appeal to the the privy counsel in Britain, the Court found the transaction valid as it occurred a few months before Britain officially recognized the Communist Government. The remaining aircraft were immediately transferred to an American Aircraft Carrier and shipped back the United States.

The only company that still survives of the big three is CNAC which remains incorporated in Hong Kong as subsidiary of Civil Aviation Administration of China and possesses a majority of Air China and Air Macau.



The American Journal of International Law, Vol. 47, No. 2 (Apr., 1953), pp. 328-331



Pacific Northwest Aviation and Insurance Law Conference

Dinner at Conference

I just returned from one of my favorite conferences of the year - the Pacific Northwest Aviation and Insurance Law Conference.  During my second year of law school, I joined the King County Bar Association Aviation Section. It is populated by nice small group of lawyers across the northwest and every year we have a conference.

This year the conference was in Vancouver, BC, and I was one of the presenters.

Despite the constant rain, the conference was great. I met a number of interesting attorneys and heard from some great presenters.

One who stood out was a consultant who talked about the legal and logistical challenges in large scale and remote construction projects. His presentation tracked the development of a mountain road to a mining project in the wilderness of British Columbia. Some of the challenges included importing a MI-26 helicopter from Russia  and coordinating the thousands of flight hours require to shuttle men and equipment.

I presented on the recent developments in Aviation Case Law over the last year. I will be posting the whole of my presentation on a later post.

I tried to appeal to the broad range of attendees to the conference and had cases from transactions, accidents, certification, and regulation practice areas.

After the conference, we had an afternoon to see the sites in Vancouver. We enjoyed a run through Stanley park and headed down to Gastown to check out the Steam Clock and other local tourist attractions.



Asian Business Aviation Conference and Exhibition


Always nice to see aviation conferences in China. Last week brought us the Asian Business Aviation Conference and Exhibition in all its splendor.

I find it ironic how the news coverage and "industry insiders" fawn over themselves about how quickly the business aviation market is growing in China.  Yet, with the same breath, make a statement like this:

"The number of registered business jets last year on the mainland was 132, less than 1 percent of that in the United States."


Sorry, but that is no market. There was an addition of 20 planes in the last year to the Chinese registry. Despite the predictions, there is no growth. Why?

It is no doubt a complicated answer, but one of the biggest hurdles to the development of private aviation in China is that fact this is Communist China. The airspace is run by the military, the airports have limited facilities for private jets, and most importantly there is no general aviation airspace (aside from a few test areas.)

In this environment, there is little incentive to fire up your private jet, especially when airspace closures and pre-authorization of flight plans limit your ability to travel.

As the Wall Street Journal put it last week:

But for all the dizzying projections, there are also more practical problems. China's military retains significant control over the country's airspace, and it's commercial, not private, aviation that is the development priority. Approval times for private flights are still often measured in days rather than hours—so much for the convenience of having your own jet—and in the few places where a program to open up low altitudes to general aviation has been implemented, pilots can do little more than circle the airports from which they take off.



General Aviation Sections of the Civil Aviation Law of the PRC – 中国的通用航空法律

I am starting something new with this blog. I will start to review many of the laws that govern aviation the PRC. Today, I start with my most requested section of aviation law.

The civil aviation law was enacted by the People's Congress on October 30, 1995. It is the basic legal framework for civil aviation activities, aviation administrative regulations, and civil aviation rules. The Civil Aviation Law can be downloaded in its entirety from

The General Aviation Sections of the Civil Aviation Law are sections 145 - 150. The section of the law is rather short, but it gives some broad definitions about general aviation and its application in China. It is basically a policy statement for what China wants general aviation to be. For more specific guidance, we will need to dive into the administrative regulations, but for this post I want to highlight some of themes you can pull from this law. First, that the definitions limit general aviation to what a US pilot would consider commercial aviation with small aircraft and second, that the law requires third party liability insurance.

This is general aviation in China for now.


China has a very narrow definition of general aviation and this definition does not include joyrides.

"General aviation" means civil aviation operations other than public air transport with civil aircraft, including aerial work in the fields of industry, agriculture, forestry, fishery and building industry, and flight operations in the fields of medical and health work, emergency and disaster relief, meteorological service, ocean monitoring, scientific experiment, education and training, culture and sports.

Notice that this list does not include recreation. Instead, flights that are classified as general aviation are limited to specific purposes. This is an interesting contrast to the regulations in the US which do not specifically define general aviation, but rather define the limitations to general aviation like commercial carriage and interstate air commerce.

This limiting definition is one of the reasons that we have not seen much development general aviation outside of flight training and charter aviation. As it stands, there is no flying for flying sake in China. Indeed, if you look at the list of required documents to be carried during a flight, it requires that you have a passenger manifest with destination information.

Article 90:

Civil aircraft on flight duty should carry the following documents:
(1) Certificate of nationality registration of the aircraft.
(2) Certificate of airworthiness of the aircraft.
(3) Relevant licenses of flight crew members.
(4) Aerolog of the aircraft.
(5) License of the radio equipment on the aircraft.
(6) Name list of the passengers on the aircraft with their places of departure and destination.
(7) Warehouse receipts and detailed declaration forms of the cargoes on the aircraft.
(8) Other documents relevant to flight duty.
CAA or local civil aviation control offices with CAA authorization can forbid the taking off of aircraft which fail to carry the documents listed above.

Flight Safety and Liability Insurance

The next provisions (146-148) of the regulation are straight forward enough they require registration, licensed pilots, and flight safety certification.

Chinese General Aviation is also flight training - Remember don't extend your downwind past no-engine glide range.

Finally, provisions 149 - 150 provide interesting language.

Article 149 In organizing and carrying out aerial work, effective measures shall be taken to ensure flight safety, protect environment and ecological balance and prevent damage to be caused to environment, residents, crops or livestock.
Article 150 Those engaged in general aviation operations shall be covered by insurance against liability for third parties on the surface.

While many US GA insurance policies cover damage to the aircraft and some liability for damage to property on the ground, the FARs do not require that a GA owner have insurance. Nevertheless, the Chinese law requires that GA pilots obtain coverage for liability to third parties on the ground. This is another hurdle to the development of recreational general aviation because of the costs associated with liability insurance. I know plenty of US pilots that choose to fly with limited or no insurance because it is too expensive to maintain. I can only imagine the costs that would come from adding liability insurance to cover damage to third parties on the ground.

Full Text of the Law in Chinese and English after the Break:

China opens up General Aviation Test Airspace over Hainan – 海口飞行管制分区低空空域管理改革试飞活动

Statue in Hainan

One of the biggest hurdles to the civil aviation in China has been the military's tight control on the airspace. The vast majority of delays for commercial aircraft are from the ATC. Commercial pilots expect a long wait to get their clearance to push back from the gate. Once airborne, pilots can expect any number of odd holds and approach procedures to adjust for military traffic.

Fly the beautiful grey skies of Haikou

For example, while in cruise on one my flights between Shenzhen and Beijing, we had three separate holds. On approach into Beijing, we dropped down to about 10,000 feet very quickly and spent the last 120 miles so at slow speed and low altitude.

The tight control over the airspace has created problems for general aviation. There are no VFR flights. Instead, all flights must be on a flight plan and pre-approved by the governing agency.

However, this week, the Chinese Civil Aviation Authority (CAAC) took steps toward greater freedom in general aviation. It has opened test general aviation airspace over Hainan island below 1,000 meters. The flights will be conducted by four helicopters flying without the need to seek permission prior to each flight.

Over the next five years, similar test areas will  be rolled out over other provinces. Aircraft flying above 1,000 meters and below 4,000 meters will still be required to file a flight plan but, if the tests go well, they will not need to seek approval from authorities.

Hainan is a tourist island for the Chinese. These initial flights will be local sightseeing tours. However, Hainan is within GA tank-of-gas range from the cities in the pearl river delta and I hope that we will soon see GA traffic between Hong Kong, Shenzhen and Haikou.

Landing at Hainan on a better day.

For Chinese coverage of the story see: ;

For English coverage of the story see:

Full Text of the Hainan Government Press release in English after the break.