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Small planes set for big takeoff

By Zhu Wenqian | China Daily | Updated: 2016-12-19 06:57

Small planes set for big takeoff

Visitors at the fourth Macao Business Aviation Expo check out a small jet on display. Participating makers of business jets from the US, France, Brazil said they received numerous enquires from potential buyers in China. [Photo/Xinhua]

Business jet makers launch new models, increase staff in China to serve a market that is expanding very fast

In China and the Asia-Pacific region, inveterate wealthy fliers are fast upgrading to small- and mid-size jets for purposes as varied as tourism and business travel.

Typically, such jets hold eight to 10 passengers.

Andy Gill, senior director of business and aviation for the Asia-Pacific at Honeywell Aerospace, a major provider of aircraft hardware and avionics systems, said: "As the economy grows, Chinese customers are starting to use business jets for travel within the region as opposed to flying out of the region.

"We think travel by business jets is going to become more prominent for short-distance flights, for purposes like business trips, tourism, and cross-sea flying. We are already seeing that trend a little bit, and we think it's going to grow."

For a long time, wealthy Chinese fliers favored buying or chartering large, long-range aircraft, mainly because they traveled a lot for business outside of the Asia-Pacific region.

Such fliers had businesses in Europe or the United States. To reach such places in exclusive comfort, they needed long-range aircraft.

As their wealth increased, and more successful people turned wealthy, the tribe's tastes, preferences and requirements, too, have evolved.

Currently, there are about 300 business jets in China. Compared to the West, the business jet market in China is small and underdeveloped. But China is seeing strong growth in the sector, a contrast to the relatively sluggish growth in mature markets.

Last year, China saw 28 percent growth in people looking to buy or replace their business jets. In the Asia-Pacific region, the growth rate was around 14 percent, according to Honeywell Aerospace data.

"If you compare with the US, where there are nearly 20,000 business jets, China has three to four times the US population, so there is a huge opportunity for the business jet market to grow in China. I'm very confident about the growth potential," Gill said.

"Obviously, the business aviation sector is still in its infancy in China. I think there's still a lot of learning going on in the industry about the benefits and positive impact of business aviation. For example, the investment in the new technology of business jets will drive the growth for many related areas."

Signs to that effect are appearing already. For instance, Jiangsu Jet Co Ltd, a Nanjing, Jiangsu province-based small aircraft-operator, started flying a new 15-seat airplane this summer.

The business jet costs $16 million. Operating expenses would entail 35,000 yuan ($5,090) for every flying hour of a chartered flight, including wages for pilots, flight attendants and other related bills.

"We have seen a few chartered flights in recent months, mostly for domestic travel. We arrange everything for passengers. I expect to see more people choosing to fly in business jets," said Pei Shanfeng, an engineer for Jiangsu Jet Co Ltd.

Pei's expectation is based on the fact that those who prefer exclusive jets are often entrepreneurs, heads of states, top government officials and high net-worth individuals. For the growing number of such fliers, business jets become essential for business trips where time is at a premium.

To meet the needs of such potential customers, French aircraft manufacturer Dassault Aviation SA launched a new jet model, the Falcon 8X, two months ago.

The Falcon 8X is the quietest in its class. It also offers the longest range-for instance, it can fly from Beijing to Los Angeles-and the longest cabin among the Falcon series.

Dassault said Falcon 8X is expected to get certification from China shortly. In coming months, the new aircraft will likely be on track for deliveries to Chinese operators.

"We are very confident about the growth potential of the China market. It's one of our key markets, and we have added more staff to our team in China. For the Falcon 7X, China is our second-largest market, in terms of demand," said Kathy Liu, general manager of Dassault China.

This year, Honeywell had projected global deliveries of about 650 to 675 business jets worth around $18 billion. The projected volume was a low- to mid-single-digit percentage decline year-on-year, largely due to slower order rates for mature models and stabilization in some types of deliveries, according to its report.

The company said aircraft manufacturers typically make many models, and are always looking for niche markets for their new offerings of business jets.

The Asia-Pacific region has about 700 business jets. The market is showing an increasing optimism, despite the ongoing Chinese austerity measures. In the next five years, the region could garner up to 6 percent share of the global demand for new jets. And it is the fastest-growing region, the report said.

Currently, business jets share the same airports with other commercial airplanes in China, but the situation is likely to change for the better.

"As the business aviation sector grows, specific general aviation airports will come up. They will offer access to business jets or provide better access to business jets. In Europe and the US, major cities typically have their own dedicated business airports," Gill said.

Small planes set for big takeoff

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