China’s ‘richest village’ takes tourism to the skies

China’s ‘richest village’ takes tourism to the skies

If your village already has a luxury hotel, a Great Wall replica and is listed on the stock exchange, it needs its own airline. Obviously

huaxi village aviation -- inlineA bird's-eye view of China's wealthiest village and its landmark, Longxi International Hotel.

Dubbed the “No. 1 Village Under The Sky,” Huaxi (华西村) -- which is actually a tad larger and wealthier than most other residential ares in southern Jiangsu Province -- recently started up its own air service: Huaxi General Aviation (HGA).

This is China’s first village-owned aviation business, backed by an initial investment of RMB 100 million. Huaxi -- which is spread over 35 square kilometers -- obtained approval from the Civil Aviation Administration of China early this week.

First village-owned aviation business

China’s latest aviation company is equipped with two helicopters: a six-seat AS350B3 and an eight-seat MD902.

Jiangsu Huaxi Group, the parent company that runs the community and all its affiliated business, shelled out a total of RMB 90 million to purchase the two choppers in 2010 from McDonnell Douglas and Eurocopter.

HGA will mostly operate sightseeing services for visitors who want a bird's-eye view of Huaxi or Jiangyin (江阴), the city Huaxi belongs to. The authorities only gave the company permission to fly up to 300 meters high.

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With a population of 36,000, Huaxi is approximately four minutes' flight from downtown Jiangyin and nine minutes' from Wuxi (无锡), the nearest metropolis.

The cost of a 10-minute flight is RMB 1,000 per person. But either helicopter can be rented at RMB 35,000 per hour. The village is currently giving one free ride to every resident.

The aircraft will take off and land at Jiangyin Huaxi Heliport, an airport built and owned by the village.

Wu Xie’en (吴协恩), chairmen of Huaxi Group and secretary of the party committee from Huaxi Village, told Xinhua News Agency that the purpose of the aviation development is to boost local tourism.

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HGA is set to expand its fleet to five helicopters and one business jet by 2015.

The company is also looking to set up tourist business in Qingdao, Gulangyu, Guangzhou and Hainan, and then run airlines between Huaxi and these destinations.

Tourism ambition

Huaxi welcomes approximately 2 million tourists every year.

The village’s previous tourism efforts include spending RMB 3 billion to build an 800-room luxury hotel Longxi International Hotel, which opened last October.

The 328-meter, 74-story property houses a one-ton gold ox in the lobby and is as lofty as China World Center, the tallest building in Beijing.

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The village has also duplicated various domestic and overseas tourist landmarks to reel in visitors.

The replicas include the Great Wall of China, Tian’anmen Square, Arc de Triomphe, and United States Capitol Building.

China’s wealthiest village

Regarded "China’s wealthiest village" by many, Huaxi is often touted as a model socialist village.

According to China Daily, every local household resides in a plush villa, own two cars and has at least US$250,000 worth of reminbi in the bank. By comparison, last year the annual income for an average Chinese farmer was RMB 6,977. 

Huaxi's economic boom is largely attributed to a highly centralized authority.

Villagers are shareholders of Huaxi Group and are paid mostly in stocks and physical assets, rather than cash. Huaxi Group is managed by the local secretary of the party committee and decides what to invest and when.

Locals work seven days a week. In return, they enjoy free healthcare and education. But if they move out of the community, they cannot take their assets with them.

The village even went public and is a listed company on Shenzhen Stock Exchange.

Getting there: Huaxi Village is in southeast Jiangyin, a county-level city in Jiangsu. Jiangyin Dongmen Bus Station runs buses to Huaxi every day. Shanghai Long-distance Bus Station and Shanghai South Long-distance Bus Station operates coaches to Jiangyin frequently.