China's rich flying high in private jets

By Xin Dingding (China Daily)
Updated: 2010-07-22 07:34
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BEIJING - Flight delays, traffic jams and the need for privacy have led China's super rich to travel by private planes, though space and flight restrictions can still make it difficult for them to take off.

Insiders warned the restrictions could put a damper on the demand for private planes, while the desire for more convenient transport may drive this class of traveler to resort to the use of charter flight services.

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Private aircraft manufacturers and dealers agreed that China and other Asian countries are becoming increasingly important markets, as their traditional customers in the United States and Europe continue to struggle with economic recovery.

The most optimistic forecast so far, made by Hong Kong's Asia Jet CEO Mike Walsh, was that China would surpass the US in terms of possessing the largest number of private planes in the world. The US currently has 200,000 private planes.

Other industry insiders disagreed with the forecast and projected an annual growth of 20 percent as a more rational estimate.

"Only when the current difficult approval procedures are removed can the demand for private aircraft ownership achieve explosive growth," said Yang Xiaonong, one of China's earliest private plane consultants who has sold more than a dozen private planes since the 1990s.

Due to the complicated procedures, only 30 private planes are registered with the civil aviation authorities, he estimated.

Many other private planes have no "legal identity" and are flown stealthily, without reporting their flight plans to air traffic controllers.

Earlier this year, civil aviation authorities in Zhejiang province detected three illegal plane flights, whose owners were punished.

The difficulty of meeting all three requirements - a pilot license, a registered plane and approval of the flight plan by air traffic control - has placed most private plane owners in a dilemma.

Yang said one of his customers, who owns hotels in Dongguan, Guangdong province, can only fly from his hotels to nearby beaches.

Only a small number of corporate users regularly use their business jets by paying professional companies millions of yuan each year to handle the logistics.

"But the limited number of airports in the country and other restrictions will always impede growth," Yang said.

Meng Pengjun, chairman of Shenzhen-based Asia-Pacific Business Aviation Company Ltd, said that since there are a limited number of people who can afford their own planes, private jet charter services are likely to become lucrative in China.