Why can’t we be more like China?

“China gets ready for takeoff,” [subscription required] is the cover story of the Nov. 18, 2013, of Fortune magazine. The article centers on Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China‘s efforts to bring the C919 to market. For perspective, the C919 is remarkably similar to the Airbus A320. So we’re not talking GA here.

But in the story a gem of a comment. “In recent years China has learned it can’t build motorways fast enough to connect millions of people in large eastern cities with the west. But it can build airports. Between 2011 and 2015, China will have constructed more than 80 new airports and expanded another 100, according to the China Daily newspaper.”

How refreshing to read of a government, any government, who sees value – and invests in – aviation. Even if it is commercial aviation, it’s still part of the family. So, why can’t we be more like China?


  1. David Gaeddert says

    Airports? I think we have enough, at least in my part of NY state. Cost of fuel, new airplanes, flying generally? That’s where yankee ingenuity and gov’t actually doing their job needs to happen. Be more like China? — Air pollution and environment? Workers rights, work place health and safety? Let’s not even go there!

  2. Rich says

    It’s pretty obvious that the author was talking about the need for airports and that they are building them.
    And why couldn’t the US be building airports, too.

    Where did you get all wrapped up in the NSA and government corruption and the entire geopolitical realm.

    Calm down.

    • says

      I think your reply to Ben’s plight is for the US to build more airports is “right on”. That said, here’s an example of a ‘new” US airport; Rocks County Regional Airport (KRCP) Stockton, KS. Apparently “someone” believed a NEED existed for an airport. A classic case for the failed concept of “Build and THEY will come”, who’s the “they”; a few off course Canadian Geese headed south?

      I’m ALL for new airports; if and when a “Demand Study” can show the justification and need for one – keep in mind WHO’s footing the bill!

  3. says

    I’m not surprised by several of the comments. Perhaps I didn’t clearly state my point. In 5 years, another country (in the case, China) will construct or expand 180 airports. Whether you believe the Chinese value aviation in general or general aviation specifically matters not. That is a lot of airport construction activity (albeit off a very low base). Imagine if our governments (federal, state and local) pushed for aviation infrastructure like … China. That is something I’d love to see.

    • says

      Mr. Ben, I’m sure your bright and knowledgeable enough to know that ALL airport infrastructure funding comes from the TAXPAYER, directly or indirectly. This county, frankly, has many GA airports that just aren’t justified financially or are underutilized.
      Kindly take a look at Rooks County (KS) – they have a “NEW” airport – needed – about as much as Japan needs another earth quake! How about investing in the upgrade of existing active airports – doesn’t that make more cent$?
      One might also keep in mind that China is 50+ years behind the US in – well, you name it.
      “Builds and THEY will come” in the US – show me some solid evidence of that, PLEASE!

    • bob says

      Mr. Sclair,

      “Why can’t we be more like China” is a provocative headline. As you point out, China’s efforts to build aviation infrastructure contrasts starkly with our own (USA) indifference toward aviation in general, and general aviation in particular. Currently the GA industry in China and the USA are in opposite states-of-being, if you will.. China‘s GA industry is emerging from a condition of near-zero and growing, while in the USA, the world’s most mature aviation market, GA continues its long descent from the stratospheric level reached in the 1970s. GA in both countries faces the same grave reckoning—where are tomorrow’s pilots going to come from?

      That is the biggest problem we face. Unlike China, we do not suffer from a lack of GA-accessible airports (although we often find ourselves fighting to keep the ones that we have). We do not lack aircraft. Fuel is plentiful and (relatively speaking) reasonably priced. Airspace is easily accessible. What we do not have is a modern air traffic management system. But of most critical importance, especially for the GA industry, is the fact that the number of active GA pilots is declining and the downward trend is alarming.

      If the discussion is about building infrastructure, the situation we face is not “if we build it, they will come,” because there will be no “they.” If the discussion is about investing in GA , there are other far more pressing (desperate, perhaps) needs than building new airports. We need new powerplants. New fuels. New airframes. A modern air traffic management system for those who depend on GA (and airlines alike) for transportation. Mostly, we need new pilots, and we need those new pilots to operate more safely than we have up to this point.

      So if we had money to spend on GA, how should it be allocated? Without a new generation of pilots, new infrastructure will never be needed.

      Thanks for the thought-provoking article and the opportunity to respond.

  4. Michael Scott says

    Chris; Although there certainly is a difference in the hybrid communist/capitalist government of China, I think you overstate the difference between our countries. I am a businessman working in China, and have spent time there dealing with the government and with the factory owners. Let me challenge a couple of points:

    First, there is no forced labor in the business world there. Workers are generally pleased that jobs are available at a livable wage in the cities, as opposed to the farm wages they left at home. They are upwardly mobile, and many are starting their own businesses and becoming very wealthy with entrepeneurial ventures. As businesses have matured, the wages have risen due to competition. You will see more expensive cars being driven in Beijing and Shanghai than in any US city.

    I would also challenge the fact that we have some moral superiority over the Chinese in the human rights arena (abortion, NSA spying, government propaganda is rampant here). Do you think it is any different there for small business vs. big business than it is in the US? Jeffrey Imelt is the “Job Czar” and his several billion dollar corporation paid no Federal taxes. Better wise up.

    True, they are going to have to deal with all the issues you mentioned, such as the environmental issues, respect of creative property rights, and so forth, but they do not have the creative spirit that we have here, but they have come out of the dark ages just in the last 20 years. Give them a chance. And by-the-way, the cheap labor has added jobs to our economy by keeping costs low on the things we buy. Studies consistently show a low loss of jobs due to cheap labor vs. the benefit to our economy.

    Do yourself a favor and take a trip to see what is going on there. The infrastructure they are building is stunning, while we are bogged down with a corrupt government adding laws and regulations that make no sense. Your beef should be with U.S. policies, not China.

    Michael Scott

    • bob says

      Your comments sound suspiciously like the thinly-disguised propaganda that masquerades as letters-to-the-editor printed in China Daily. No westerner with the kind of in-depth knowledge of China that you profess to have would ever suggest, for example, that government corruption in USA is comparably worse than that in China.

      But yes, they are making progress. Undeniably.

    • says

      Michael Scott is right on the money, and he should know, he does business IN China and if you really want to assess the Chinese economy…it is the top countries for economic freedom, while the United States is ranked #10.

      As a free market capitalist, meaning that free markets will provide the best products at the best price AND creates opportunity and wealth for the poor and underprivileged, we have to understand how goods and services are distributed. The Communist government has to figure out how to maintain a communist type image to the rest of the country, while they practice pure capitalism.

      The free market will cause the Chinese wages to go up with time, just as the Japanese wages had gone up in the 1970’s until they simply cannot produce at a cost as cheaply as they have. Exploitation? In some ways…but would you rather live in Cuba or Venezuela? If you think that is the utopia, you may just want to do some research and tell me why living in poverty and very few opportunities is so great.

      Kent had mentioned a quote about Government being the problem, because our Government IS the problem to who we are. The government has created more regulations and conditions for doing business, that the frustration and money it takes to operate a business efficiently is insane. Zoning laws, environmental studies, taxes, free healthcare, it all gets to be nonsense after a while. Freedom is what we need to have more of, individual property rights, and minimal government interference.

  5. Bob says

    How amusing: China is becoming more like the USA.


    So, what was the question again? Something about why can’t we (the USA) be more like China? What we should really be asking is, why can’t we be more like America.

  6. Bruce Billedeaux says

    We are better then China airport wise. We have 49.635 per 1 million people. That’s more then any other industrial county by double or triple, and 135 times that of China. Only Island countries have a higher density, and that usually means one airport. When I was in Ghana, west Africa (Rank #224) they have 2 airports, and only the International Airport is lighted. China (Rank #225) has only 0.375 per 1 million people, they will have to build one airport every day for the next 180 years to reach par with the US on a per capita basis.

  7. Chris Martin says

    Can’t believe what I am reading. To think that the issue is that we have government regulations and they don’t is non-sense.

    Why aren’t we like China?

    Because we choose to not be a Communist country, with no human rights, no freedoms, no concerns for the environment, no opportunities to anyone not well connected to either mafias or government.

    As an individual that works in the technology innovation sector, I fight every day to try to keep jobs and the technology we create in America but short term greed is driving this country to the ground. We are selling our soul to countries with ideologies that we used to think were not what we wanted.

    Wait one generation and China will absorb all useful technology, will be in a better position to create new technology than us and, with cheap slave labor, they will be untouchable.

    If we leveled the playing field, forcing china to open its market to the rest of the world, fairly adjust its currency, respect human rights, environmental laws and intellectual property they would not be doing so hot. But again, short term greed is making us turn a blind eye to these facts and drain our country of anything that used to make it such an amazing place to live in.

    Do you really want to become like China? Well, I think than if a generation or two we will be there. But we will look more like the Chinese factory workers than the khaki dressed generals that run it.

    Be my guest, want to be like China? Have fun, I don’t.

    • says

      Chris, you said it. If we believe that a DVD player can go for $20 at Wall-Mart, we have our heads firmly planted in the sand. After Wall-Mart gets its share, the factory makes its profit, add the cost of transportation from China, add the cost of raw materials, the cost of labor, the overhead…and the list goes on. Is this is be a fair price? I think not! Greed my friends, greed, is what is killing our industries – GA included.

        • Chris Martin says

          You are right Rod. I am not against greed since that is what drives people to achieve their greatest. However, my definition of excessive greed is when it drives an individual or organization to totally disregard the consequences of achieving those goals. In the case of China, I believe that we are too greedy when we tur a blind eye to what happens in that country in regards to human rights, environmental issues, currency control and unfair market practices creates an unfair advantage that yes, it benefits the few that import and sell cheap products in our country, but it hurts our ability to compete in the global market.

          All I am saying is that you can’t have a despotic attitude that gives you an unfair advantage if you want to play in our global sandbox. By example, why is China, with all its resources and economic power, exempt from most rules that are applied to developed countries. Now, if we can’t achieve that then I agree that we should eliminate the EPA, OSHA, etc and turn our country into a slave labor/cesspool looking country to be able to compete against China.

          BTW, I doubt China is developing a GA industry, unless they plan to sell little planes abroad. I think they are learning how to design and build airplanes to sell or internally meet their needs for commercial aviation once again eliminating the need to buy anything from other countries. China doesn’t strike me as a country that would care if their citizens enjoyed flying at a personal level. But maybe I am wrong. I really don’t know.

          • says

            Chris; OK – lets try this; greed is when you have (8) G-5’s but can only fly (or ride) in one!
            My personal economic solution(s):
            1. Trim down government (useless civil servant jobs) for one
            2. All government budgets/management positions; just like the “private sector” – QUOTA/PERFORMANCE BASED – the more you “save” – the more you make!
            3. Companies that don’t produce here; no problem, – they PAY import charge for bringing the goods back into the USA to be sold.” If we don’t get you (here) going – we’ll get you coming (back) “!
            4. All large/major corporations – required (mandate) to have “profit sharing ” if say total employees in excess of 10,000 and EDITDA of 8%+ or?
            5. Excess (TBD) profit by “giants” go to a Small Business Finance Fund – (screw the SBA and Shark Tank) to entrepreneur’s to “achieve their dream” – of say .05% of after tax net profits.
            Some of the solutions to greed and leveling the playing field – maybe?

  8. Kent Misegades says

    To quote America’s greatest president in the past century, “Government is not the solution to our problems, government IS the problem.” Don’t believe everything you read about aviation in China. One of the reasons that Cessna is abandoning the Skycatcher is due to continued workmanship problems from the Chinese factory where they are made. One local example used by a flight school was up for inspection. When the mechanic open wing access panels, they found a bucking bar loose in the wing, left over from manufacturing. Imagine if it had gotten into the aileron controls. Ask any former Douglas person about the problems with the small run of MD-95s built in China, later called the Boeing 717. Until a Chinese citizen living in Beijing can Google Tiananmen Square Massacre with success, and without being arrested, the country has a ways to go.

    • says

      Mike, don’t become short-sighted. Oh yes, China has a ways to go in the pursuit of openness and individual freedoms. Look at where they have come from. The fact that they have endorsed an aggressive expansion of their airports for general aviation, would not have even been in their dreams 50 years ago. It would not even been in their planning 25 years ago. Don’t forget the Chinese were among the earliest capitalist, tradesmen, and traders on the planet. While our government is building roadblocks that hinder the spirit of free enterprise, China is removing them.

  9. says

    Government restraints aside, when the ENTIRE aviation industry, GA, included, is seen by USA based capital sources has having low-moderate financial risks, and the management of manufactures and “retail” FBO’s/fight schools providers are profit motivated – maybe?

  10. John Wesley says

    Why cant we be more like China????, you ask.

    let us count the ways,

    China has no FAA to deal with, no TORT problems, no OSHA, no EPA, no unions, no Congress and that is just for starters, to the Chinese government these things do not matter, only the goal matters, no matter the consequences.

    Our government has gone way to far the other way, there has to be some middle ground for us to settle on or we in this country are doomed to become a third rate or worse country.

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