China started the first test flights of private aircraft in its tightly controlled airspace on Friday, responding to pressure to further open its skies as flight paths grow increasingly crowded.
The country's growing rich class also has been eager to buy and fly a new kind of toy: helicopters and private jets.
China's aviation authorities allowed helicopters to fly in low-altitude airspace over the southern island of Hainan, the state-run Xinhua News Agency reported Friday. The test flights, involving four helicopters with the Shanghai-based Zhengyang Investment Group, are expected to continue over the next two months.
China late last year said it would open part of its low-altitude airspace to promote its aviation industry and allow the use of private airplanes. The airspace is controlled by the military and Civil Aviation Administration of China.
Every private flight still needs approval and getting it can take up to a week, Xinhua reported.
Even state media has said restrictions are "stunting" the industry's growth in China.
Some also say the restrictions are affecting air traffic. State media this week reported that the punctuality rate of passenger flights in China fell to 76 percent last year, the lowest rate since 2005.
One aviation expert told the People's Daily newspaper that opening more airspace would help cut delays.
Less than 30 percent of China's airspace is open to civil aviation, Liu Weimin with the Civil Aviation Management Institute of China told the newspaper.