Head in the clouds, feet on the ground

Updated: 2014-08-16 08:33

By Yang Yang(China Daily)

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 Head in the clouds, feet on the ground

Technicians refuel a plane at Douzhuang Airfield in Tianjin, the first private general aviation airfield in China. There are currently about 1,370 private all-purpose aircraft in the country. Feng Yongbin / China Daily

Dou Ruchao loves flying so much that he has even built his own airfield in northern China.

It's easy for newcomers to lose their bearings in the fields around Douzhuang Airfield, but the sight and sounds of small aircraft circling in the white smoggy sky always provide a guide to point them in the right direction. The facility, in Douzhuang village in the northern municipality of Tianjin, is the first private general-aviation airfield to win approval from both the Civil Aviation Administration of China and the People's Liberation Army Air Force. It covers an area of 53.3 hectares on the ground, and has been allotted 1,200 square kilometers of airspace for use by fixed-wing planes and helicopters.

The owner, Dou Ruchao, initially invested 100 million yuan ($16.2 million) in infrastructure construction, including the airfield and the hangar, in pilot-training programs and buying aircraft. Now the 40-year-old entrepreneur has 20 fixed-wing aircraft and helicopters in the hangar.

Dou began training as a pilot in the summer of 2010. A few months later, at the China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition in Zhuhai, Guangdong province, the Chinese government announced that it would open low altitude airspace - below 1,000 meters - to private aircraft in 2011. As Dou had already bought several planes, but had nowhere to keep or fly them, he decided to build his own airfield.

As the summer sun beat down at 11 am on a Monday, Dou opened the door of a newly arrived Robinson R4 helicopter and invited several visitors, including myself, to take a short flight.

Three of us accepted the offer. Sitting in the co-pilot's seat, with my safety belt carefully fastened and wearing headphones, I felt a slightly nervous and anxious. Dou, who was obviously familiar with the machine, began pressing buttons on the instrument panel and talking with the ground staff as he prepared for takeoff.

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