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Volume 14,Issue 3 Autumn 2012

Brief Introduction of China’s Air Traffic Management & Airspace

According to the rules of [the] “Basic Regulations of Aviation of the People’s Republic of China”, the basic model of China’s current air traffic control system is that the leadership is within the authority of the National Air Traffic Control Commission, the Air Force organizes the overall air traffic control, and the military & civil aviation authorities shall be responsible for their own air traffic management services respectively. China’s National Key Laboratory on Airspace Technology revealed that the actual available airspace in China today is 9.985 million km2. Among that, the airspace used daily for civil aviation is 3.1953 million km2, accounting for 32% of the total airspace; and military use airspace is 2.3472 million km2, accounting for 23.51%. Also, the temporary air routes occupies around 549,700 km2, which accounts for 5.51%. Some airspace, mainly in the sparsely populated west region, has not been effectively used. East of Shenyang-Beijing-Xi’an-Chengdu-Kuming, the daily use of military & civil airspace is 3.9787 million km2, and air routes occupy 1.6911 km2, accounting for 42.50%. The military use airspace is 1.6994 km2, accounting for 42.70%. In addition, the temporary routes here occupy 365,000 km2, accounting for 9.17%. The current air traffic control system was formed in the 1950’s and 60’s. With the tremendous increase of civil aircraft and the rapid growth of traffic volume today, continuing to use the past ATC system is obviously outdated. In 1993, the State Council and the Central Military Commission confirmed the guideline of China’s ATC system and proposed the 3-step goal for the reform. Step 1: Assign the route of Beijing-Guangzhou-Shenzhen to the CAAC for trial operation, and that started back in April 1st, 1994. Step 2: Transfer the overall air routes to the CAAC’s control, forming the ATC system of “one ATC command in an airspace”. Transferring the air routes of Beijing-Shanghai & Shanghai-Guangzhou to the CAAC’s command on June 30th 1996, that symbolized the initiation of the second step of the ATC reform. Step 3: In the long run, China’s ATC system should follow the practices of the world’s advanced aviation countries, the use of a national unity control mode, with reference to international common practices and research to establish a unified management and centralized command of the ATC system. With China’s rapid economic growth, the demands for civil aviation are aggressively growing year by year. Therefore, ATC plays an important role in China’s civil aviation transformation. The Air Traffic Management Bureau (ATMB) of the CAAC is responsible for managing the nation’s ATC services, communications, navigation, surveillance, aviation weather and flight information. It operates in 3 different levels with the ATMB, regional ATMBs and branch offices of ATC stations, to form an ATC service system that controls all regions, approaches & airports. There are 9 flight information regions in the whole nation. These are located in Beijing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Wuhan, Lanzhou, Shenyang, Kunming, Urumqi & Taipei. There are 28 upper control areas in the mainland: 4 in the northeast region, 3 in the north region, 6 in the east region, 8 in the central China region, 4 in the southwest region, 2 in northwest region and 1 in Xinjiang. There are 37 middle and low-altitude control areas. Most of the civil airports (including civil-military airports) have established tower control areas. After years of construction, the ATC facilities have been formed into a relatively perfected security system for communications, navigation, flight information & weather. In respect to communications, most of the civil airports have been equipped with satellite voice ground stations and satellite data ground stations. Each control unit has been equipped with more than 2 sets of VHF communication stations and some of the air traffic areas with weak coverage would be equipped with VHF relay stations. It was realized that the VHF coverage is above 7,000m in east China. In regards to navigation, most of the civil airports have been equipped with ILS, VOR/DME. Most of the upper, mid & low control areas have been equipped with secondary or primary/secondary radars. The radar coverage covers above 7,000m in east China. In the respect of flight information, the flight information automation system is still under construction. The production technologies of NOTAM and aviation information have improved significantly. In regards to aviation weather, each airport has been equipped with meteorological observation & forecasting systems. Some of the airports have been equipped with weather radars, automated observing systems and weather satellite cloud map receiving equipment for the timely providing of necessary weather information for the scheduling of flights. There are 12,000 personnel for the ATC, flight information, communication and navigation & weather in the ATC system. Among them, 3,000 are ATC people. Some staff members have received their advanced education, and the remainder have secondary professional education. In particular, the controller’s trainings are always emphasized at all levels. There are institutions of higher learning, comprehensive training programs, modern teaching facilities, and a strict examination system for specialized ATC controllers. There are three steps for the controller’s training, e.g. foster training, qualification training & improvement training. The Civil Aviation University of China (CAUC) & the Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics (NUAA) are the two mainly responsible for the fostering and training, with about 200 graduates each year. Each level of the ATC unit is responsible for the qualification training and improvement training through interns, license examinations, overseas training, seminars and etc.. One ATC student usually needs to be trained for 1-2 years to be able to qualify for the official duties. Currently, although most of the control areas have been equipped with secondary or primary/secondary radars, the control method still has not been reformed yet. Besides the radar controls at the Beijing terminal area and the Shenzhen approach area, most of the ATC units still use procedure control or procedure control with radar surveillance to minimize the slots. With the leadership of the National Air Traffic Control Commission, the distribution method for the flight levels of China’s air routes has finished its first reform, which is comparable to the intentional standard with the level below 6,000m (incl. 6,000m), and narrows from 1,000m to 600m for the flight level between 6,000m (excl. 6,000m) and 12,000m (incl. 12,000m). For the next step, in accordance with the international standard, the flight level below 9,000m (incl. 9,000m) will be separated by 300m; the flight level between 9,000m (excl. 9,000m) and 12,000m (incl. 12,000m) will be separated by 600m. In this way, the air flow in the air routes can be further increased. The CNS/ATM of China’s ATC system will be developed in three steps. Before 2000, it was mainly the purpose of the CNS/ATM trials in west China to set up the CNS/ATM routes, providing the pilot services, and accumulating the experiences. Next, after 2010, develop and perfect the CNS/ATM standards & operation regulations, finish the retrofitting of the current aircraft, set up the sub-system for the CNS/ATM gradually, develop and promote the CNS/ATM in full respect and re-construct the current system for connecting with the international standard. It will create the conditions necessary for convenient and free flights for the aviation community. The low-altitude airspace is the main region for general aviation. To deepen the reform of low-altitude airspace management is the key measure for the further developing of GA & China’s thriving aviation industry, and is also an urgent demand due to China’s current economic development. The Stage Council and the Military Commission of the Central Committee issued the “Advice on Deepening the Reform of China’s Low-altitude Airspace Management ” in August of 2010, effectively deploying the reform of airspace management. It defined a 3-stage reform to be completed by 2020 and confined the airspace coverage below 1,000m. It confirmed the three stages for the trial, extended trial and the national reform. Trial Stage (before 2011): The trial stage, based on the trials in the Changchun & Guangzhou flight control zones, consists of extending the trials to the Shenyang & Guangzhou flight control zones, in-depth exploring of the low-altitude airspace management reform in a greater range, study and propose the division standard for the low-altitude airspace, perfecting policy & regulations, seeking operational mechanism, simplifying of the operation procedures, optimizing the service model, and laying the foundation for the overall promotion of the low-altitude airspace management reform. Promotion Stage (2011-2015): The Promotion stage consists of promoting the trials in a national setting, setting the classification of low-altitude in Beijing, Lanzhou, Ji’nan, Nanjing & Chengdu flight control zones, to further establish and improve the regulations and standards, optimizing the operation management and a reasonable layout and constructing the service networks. Basically, the Promotional Stage is forming the low-altitude airspace operation management & service support system with government supervision and industry guidance, with the goals of supporting market-oriented operations and national integration. Deepening Stage (2016-2020): The goal of the Deepening Stage is to further deepen the reform, make the low-altitude airspace management system advanced and reasonable, with regulations and standards perfected, operation efficiency and service reliable, and to ensure the reasonable development and utilization of low-altitude airspace resources. Currently, the reform trials have achieved initial success. As the implementation unit for national flight control, the Air Force is developing low-altitude airspace management regulations and standards for the classification standards, accessibility criteria, operation management and more. The on-going trials divide the low-altitude airspace into three categories, control airspace, monitor airspace & report airspace. The altitude range is below 1,000m. It has implemented the classification management and reduced the operation requirements for the low-altitude flight gradually. According to the classification requirements, the Air Force set up 13 report airspace, 4 monitor airspace and 21 control airspace in the Changchun and Guangzhou pilot zones. Among them, 60% of the two pilot zones are report airspace and monitor airspace, meeting the demands for local GA flights. The trials at Changchun and Guangzhou flight control zones were finished by the end of 2010. On January 28, 2011, the low-altitude airspace management reform activities started in Haikou, Hainan Province.Haikou was the starting point, covering Sanya, Wenchang, Qionghai, Wuzhishan, Danzhou and other cities and counties. The activities lasted nearly two months, mainly through low-altitude flight routes, demonstration flights, test flights, and other flying subjects, in different regions of low-altitude airspace for purposes of data collection, testing the air traffic control coordination in the transaction of low-altitude airspace opening, to accelerate a theoretical basis and experimental reference of the low-altitude airspace management reform. At the same time, through close observations of helicopters and demonstration flights, people from all walks of life gained a comprehensive understanding of the helicopter structure and function. They also learned about the significant role helicopters play in tourism, transportation, production, life and even social and public services. The Air Force also has planned to operate the deepening trials at Shenyang, Guangzhou and 6 other controlled flight zones. After all the trials, it will be releasing the policies and regulations for low-altitude airspace management. If everything goes smoothly, the low-altitude airspace management reform is expected to be promoted across the entire nation by 2012. So what exactly is low-altitude airspace? It is usually considered the airspace below the true height of 1,000 meters. There are three categories: control airspace, monitor airspace, and report airspace. The control airspace is usually set up in the airspace above the busier flight areas, airport landing strips, restricted areas, danger areas, prohibited areas, ground targets and national boundaries. All the activities in the above-mentioned airspace’s must be permitted by the flight control department and should be accepted by flight control. The monitor airspace is usually established in the neighborhood of the control area. All the activities in this airspace should be reported to the flight control department for its flight planning, as so it can be implemented and be responsible for its flight safety. The flight control department shall closely monitor the use of airspace, and provide flight information and alerts. The report airspace is usually set up in an area far away from the airspace above restricted areas, danger areas, prohibited areas, national boundaries, ground targets, the busy flight zones and airport restricted area. All the activities in this airspace should be reported via flight plan to the flight control department, in which the flight control department can implement and be responsible for its flight safety. The flight control department shall provide the necessary flight information according to the user’s need.
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