Asia / Global
China ushers in a new age of seaplane travel as Vietnam attempts to wean its citizens off their scooters.
China is betting big on the seaplane industry. Joy Air, a subsidiary of the Aviation Industry Corporation of China (AVIC), plans to connect coastal cities to neighbouring tourist destinations with a fleet of Cessna Caravans on floats; AVIC itself is also shifting focus to domestic production. The state-owned conglomerate is fitting 100 homegrown y-12 turboprops with floats developed by Seattle-based Kenmore Air and, in July, AVIC grabbed headlines when it rolled out the world’s largest amphibious production aircraft, the AG600.
With proper fitting the AG600 could be used for fire-fighting or to connect island communities to the mainland. “Countries with long coastlines and those with difficulties monitoring smuggling would also be interested,” says Wendell Minnick, the Asia bureau chief of Defense News and author of an upcoming book called Chinese Seaplanes, Amphibious Aircraft and Aerostats/Airships. Although the ag600 is being marketed for civilian use, Minnick suggests a future military role. “The applications are clear if one looks at China’s claims in the South China Sea.”
But like its territorial claims to islets and reefs, China’s seaplanes face strong regional competition. Japan began working on its first civilian seaplane soon after the Second World War and the latest us-2 model, manufactured by ShinMaywa Industries, is considered an engineering marvel. With more countries likely to be wary of acquiring sensitive equipment from China, its efforts to develop a modern seaplane industry are bound to be bumpy.
Next year Jasper Tsang plans to stand in the election for the chief executive (CE) of Hong Kong. He is currently completing his final term as president of the Legislative Council (LegCo).
How significant is the new Legislative Council, which begins in October?
The next 10 years will be a test of whether or not the legislature and the executive branch of government can work together to prove to Hong Kong and the central government in Beijing that we can manage our own affairs. The new LegCo will certainly play a significant role in that.
Is the political situation in Hong Kong unique?
We face similar problems as elsewhere but our political system puts us in a worse situation. The Basic Law [Hong Kong constitution] separated the executive branch from the legislature. No member in the legislature can be a government official, unlike in the days when the British ruled Hong Kong, so the government can no longer expect consistent majority support in the legislature. And the legislature is fragmented because we adopted proportional representation.
Is the job of chief executive an impossible task?
The next CE has to serve two masters. There are the Hong Kong people, who expect the CE to defend the values of Hong Kong whenever any conflicts arise with the central government. At the same time there is the central government itself. It is very difficult to please both sides.
Hanoi’s government wants a scooter-free city centre within a decade; eight new railway lines are planned to improve public transport. Dr Vu Anh Tuan, director at the Vietnamese-German Transport Research Centre, highlights Ho Chi Minh City’s little-used bus system as an issue. “Buses are punctual, air-conditioned and have wi-fi but very few people are using them.”
Dr Vu thinks awareness campaigns could kickstart a behavioural shift. “Half the population will still be using motorcycles by 2030 so education needs to improve to make the roads safer. Government should promote the use of e-bikes.”
Japan’s soaring tourism industry is proving a logistical headache for its service-obsessed government. With annual visitor numbers expected to hit 40 million by the end of the decade, the Ministry of Transport estimates that it needs to train at least 380 new pilots a year to keep up with the stratospheric demand.
A retirement crisis also looms: about a third of current pilots are expected to touchdown for the last time by 2030. The Ministry plans to increase student numbers at Civil Aviation College by 150 per cent within two years. Incentives expected to go airborne include new training planes and airline-sponsored scholarships.
Here comes the sun
Singapore’s largest rail depot is on track to run solely on sunshine by the end of October. The Lion City government’s SolarNova plan envisages most public institutions using solar power by 2020.