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Skydiving, chopper rides create thrills, big biz

By Zhu Wenqian | China Daily | Updated: 2023-01-21 14:41
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Visitors get ready to board a Bell helicopter to experience skydiving in Sanya, Hainan province, in March 2021. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Fresh tourism formats for islands, low-altitude air travel, deserts tap 'experience market'.

If thrill-seeking Chinese travelers have their way, staid journeys that don't create an adrenaline rush will soon become passe. Instead, a "journey" would mean a chopper flight that allows riders to take a giant leap of faith and dive, headfirst, secure in the knowledge that safety gear like parachutes will produce excitement next. Skydiving is fun - and a growing lifestyle business in China, part of a trend among consumers who are willing to spend big for stirring,unforgettable experiences.

And Sanya, a tourism destination in the tropical island of Hainan province in South China, is where most of such fun is unfolding these days.Fun-chasers pay for helicopter rides that equip them with parachutes and then dump them on the sea.

According to Beijing Jinyu General Aviation, the operator of the helicopters in Sanya, the Bell 429 model from US company Bell Helicopter Textron Inc has been selected for use in the skydiving program. The aircraft are specially configured for parachuting.

"This business has been better than expected. In the holiday season, customers would gather at our base at daybreak to catch the first flight. We are exploring more opportunities to build a new base in the near future to meet the growing demand," said Chen Wenlai, general manager of Beijing Jinyu General Aviation.

Barnabas Szilagyi, chief pilot at the firm, said the Bell 429 has the largest cabin in its class and can accommodate more customers.

Skydiving bases in China are located in Hainan, Guangdong,Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces and in Shanghai. The May-October period serves as the peak season for parachute jumping in the country,industry reports said.

In July last year, the number of bookings for parachuting, which is bundled into travel products, rose nearly 20 percent over June. Per capita spending on parachuting also jumped 62 percent over June,according to Group, China's largest online travel agency.

For instance, exclusive skydiving costs 2,880 yuan ($429) in Boao,Hainan. Some packages come with additional services. Skydiving combined with photography offered by the instructor would cost 3,680 yuan. Spectacular third-party photography involving another parachuting instructor doubling up as a photographer/videographer during the dive will cost 4,380 yuan.

The helicopters used are mostly leased at substantial cost from general aviation companies. A parachute base generally needs to be equipped with about 10 to 12 pairs of parachute bags costing 150,000 yuan each, according to an operator in Huizhou, Guangdong province.

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