Chopper tours evoke love and loathing
Shanghai’s first low-altitude helicopter sightseeing tours were temporarily called off by the municipal government on Wednesday after local residents complained of noise pollution.
The tours, which proved an immediate hit with tourists, began on May 1, with one operator offering three scenic routes over different parts of the city.
But many residents who live under the flying routes quickly posted missives online berating the high-frequency noise of the rotors and engine.
One man with the surname Zhang complained that the choppers rattled his nerves and shook his windowpanes, unfairly disrupting the lives of both himself and his family, reported Xinmin.cn.
Such a vehement response forced Shanghai Kingwing General Aviation Co Ltd to stop receiving reservations from the public on Monday.
The project is now pending further assessment from the Shanghai Municipal Transportation Commission, Shanghai Environmental Protection Bureau and other related departments.
“As there is no regulation directly restricting low-altitude helicopter tours in terms of safety and noise pollution, we may have to wait a while for a clear conclusion,” said Liu Yanpeng, the company’s brand director.
To minimize the noise, Kingwing switched over to using a lower-powered chopper on the second day and tried to apply for a permit to fly at higher altitudes of 300 to 400 meters, up from the original 200 m.
The program offered flights lasting from five to 20 minutes on a choice of three routes: One promised bird’s-eye views of the Lujiazui financial district, another took in the Shanghai 2010 World Expo site, and the third gave visitors aerial views of the still-under-construction Disneyland resort in Pudong. Tourists were being charged from 800 yuan ($129) to 2,400 yuan per person for the privilege.
Over the first one and a half days of operation, some 150 tourists stepped onto the company’s sole chopper enjoy the short scenic trips.
“We are trying to satisfy the growing demand from tourists who already have some luxury traveling experience, while also making the experience quieter for local residents for a win-win result,” said Liu.
In order to be cleared to fly in China’s low-altitude airspace (under 1,000 m), an aircraft must be registered with the local office of the Civil Aviation
to Administration of China, which checks that the model has been approved to operate in China’s airspace.
Privately owned companies like Kingwing that run regular commercial trips have to go through a more complicated procedure as they need a special permit to fly along restricted routes for longer periods.
The latest document issued by the State Council and the Central Military Commission in 2010 said the country’s low-altitude airspace would be partly opened to privately operated flights. This was to promote general aviation — the use of aircraft other than those flown by airlines, the military and police.
Compared to the United States, the ratio of general aviation aircraft per capita is very low in China.
“We aim to introduce helicopters and general aviation practices from developed countries into the daily lives of Chinese people,” said Liu.
Chopper tours are common in many Western countries, where tourists can enjoy bird’s-eye views of iconic sites and landmarks. In the US, they are especially popular in New York, Las Vegas, San Francisco and Seattle.
But this unique tourism product has only just entered the Chinese market in the last two to three years as the local government changed tack to give the economy a boost.
“It will bring positive effects to the tourism industry and drive the modern service sector to a higher level, which will directly lead to regional economic growth,” said Zhu Jinfu, a professor from the College of Civil Aviation at Nanjing University of Aeronautics and Astronautics.
Zhu said it would be better to design routes away from neighborhoods and schools during the daytime to lower the impact on residents’ ears.
Shanghai’s first Liu Yanpeng, brand director of Shanghai Kingwing General Aviation Co Ltd