Huaxi once again aims sky-high with its own helicopter
Updated: 2012-08-07 13:43
By Wang Zhenghua in Shanghai (China Daily)
A helicopter sits on the parking apron at the airport of Huaxi village, in Jiangsu province.[Photo/China Daily]
China's richest village has flown to new heights by offering free helicopter rides for residents to overlook the "No 1 village in China" from the air.
Huaxi, in Jiangyin of East China's Jiangsu province, has gained approval from the Civil Aviation Administration to launch and operate Jiangsu Huaxi General Aviation, the country's first village-owned general aviation company.
That means the company can engage in a number of businesses, including commercial flights for sightseeing, emergency relief, pilot training, sky advertising and meteorological sounding.
It's part of the village's efforts to boost tourism. The village currently welcomes about 2 million visitors every year.
The village held a grand ceremony in Huaxi on July 26 for the foundation of the company, which has an initial investment of 100 million yuan ($15.7 million).
But before the village starts the commercial operation of the two helicopters bought from McDonnell Douglas and Eurocopter, residents have the chance to take a free ride.
Since last year, more than 2,000 Huaxi residents have enjoyed the unique experience of flying no higher than 300 meters to gain a bird's-eye view of their hometown.
"Villagers are very excited and eager to sign up for the trial ride," Zhao Zhilong, deputy Party secretary of Huaxi, said on Monday. "They only need to reserve one day ahead, and all residents in the village are entitled to one free ride. It's part of the service that the village offers to its residents."
According to Zhao, the AS350B3 helicopter from Eurocopter can accommodate four passengers and two pilots, and the MD902 helicopter from McDonnell Douglas could seat six passengers plus two pilots.
But the flights are limited to the nearby region at the moment and the two helicopters have to take off and land at the same venue in Huaxi, as using airports in other regions requires an application to the regulator at least three days in advance.
The two machines have been making eight trips a day to take residents sightseeing though no flight was scheduled on Monday due to the bad weather.
"It's still undecided when the free ride service will end or when the two machines will be put to commercial use," Zhao said.
The village eventually plans to charge 1,000 yuan for each 15-minute sightseeing flight.
The village is also looking to buy three more helicopters and a business jet within three years and expand the sightseeing service to Suzhou, Wuxi and Changzhou in Jiangsu, and divert to other general aviation sectors.
In the past five years, the village has amassed revenues of 229.6 billion yuan.
Covering a radius of 4 km and with a population of 36,000, the village is hailed as one of China's greatest success stories with all residents living in plush villas with two cars, at least $250,000 in the bank and free healthcare and education.
In October, the village wowed the world once again by opening a 328-meter landmark skyscraper hotel for guests.
The 74-story Longxi International Hotel is as high as the tallest building in Beijing. It ranks as the 15th highest skyscraper in the world, dwarfing many famous constructions such as the Eiffel Tower in Paris and New York's Chrysler Building.