China's PLA to get tough on low-flying private aircraft

China's PLA to get tough on low-flying private aircraft

The People's Liberation Army has pledged to tighten controls on civilian drones and private aircraft, saying unapproved flights pose a severe threat to airlines and national security.

"We must impose more severe punishments on illegal or irregular flights and inflict much higher fines on unapproved operations," an unidentified officer of the Beijing Military Command's air force told PLA Daily, the military's flagship newspaper. "By doing so, we can effectively deter such acts."

He said that aerial vehicles that are small and fly at low altitudes and speeds, such as light sport aircraft and civilian drones, are becoming a major challenge to air traffic controllers. They are widely available on the market, are easy to carry and use, and are often flown without approval from the authorities, he said.

On the Chinese mainland, airspace below 1,000 meters is controlled and regulated by the PLA air force. Flights in this airspace must receive approval before they are made.

In an attempt to deter those who want to evade the PLA's radar, the newspaper described the process of an attack helicopter shooting down a civilian drone making an illegal survey flight.

An unidentified object was detected by the air force on Dec 29, 2013. It was later been shot down and three ground controllers were captured by the police.

Flying without approval is common among owners of small general aviation aircraft because they want to avoid the complicated application procedures and long waiting times for approval, said Wu Peixin, an aviation observer in Beijing.

"Many of them are willing to pay the fine, if they were to be caught in unapproved operations, rather than waiting nearly one month for the authorities' review for a 30-minute flight," he said.

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