Business / Industries

Blue skies ahead for new flock of commuter lines

By Wang Wen (China Daily) Updated: 2014-11-14 14:22

Operators say flying to remote locations will be as easy as hailing a cab, reports Wang Wen in Zhuhai.

Getting to the remotest parts of China has traditionally meant long drives. Some destinations are so isolated and in such difficult terrain that even road transportation is not feasible. Now, a group of tiny new airlines plan to operate commuter flights to these far-flung destinations.

Commuter aviation, which originated in the United States, is a type of general aviation that uses small aircraft (less than 30 seats) in remote regions.

Commuter airlines usually operate regular or charter services between airports that are less than 400 km apart.

Sparkle Roll Airlines, a subsidiary of Sparkle Roll Group Ltd, a Hong Kong-listed luxury items distributor, hopes to be the first commuter airline in China. Its general aviation unit is expected to get an operating license by the end of November.

"We will start our business before Christmas. Some passengers are already showing an interest in our services," said Chairman Ji Xingzhuo.

The carrier took delivery of its first two P180 Avanti II aircraft from Italy-based Piaggio Aerospace SpA in September. The planes are currently on show at the 10th China International Aviation and Aerospace Exhibition in Zhuhai, Guangdong province, which closes on Sunday.

Sparkle Roll has ordered 20 aircraft in all, including Challenger planes built by Bombardier Inc of Canada, for its commuter services. More than 10 aircraft could be delivered and in service by the end of next year.

Ji said the Piaggio's eight-seat P180 AvantiII, which is known as "Ferrari in the Air" is ideal for commuter aviation in China. With a range of 3,000 km, it can cover most of the country, but its operating cost is only about 20,000 yuan ($3,260) per hour, Ji said.

The low cost means that fares can be relatively cheap, he said. Sparkle Roll will price seats at 1,500 to 3,000 yuan per hour, which is about the same as first - or business-class tickets on regular flights.

Traditionally, business jet operators sell entire flights, which have to be booked by one client. But Sparkle Roll will sell tickets by the seat.

"We aim to lower the threshold of business aviation, which should accommodate public demand for business travel rather than just serving as high-end consumption for the rich," said Ji. "It is an 'air taxi'," he added.

Initially, his airline will cooperate with companies that arrange charter flights to sell membership cards. More options for ticket sales will be developed, Ji said. The carrier will send flight information to subscribers via social media such as WeChat and Weibo.

The market for commuter aviation is basically virgin territory in China, Ji said, but such flights are needed, especially in remote areas in the central and western regions that lie beyond the reach of regular fights.

Sparkle Roll will also run its air taxi business in these remote areas, such as the Inner Mongolia autonomous region and Gansu province, he added.

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