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Rich pimp their planes as jet market takes off

By Bill Savadove in Shanghai | China Daily | Updated: 2014-07-25 11:24
Rich pimp their planes as jet market takes off

A woman leaves a Gulfstream G150 luxury business jet during the Asian Business Aviation Conference and Exhibition in Shanghai in April. [Photo/AFP]


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When a Chinese customer asked for the interior of his new Bombardier Challenger 850 jet to be covered with pricey black carbon fiber, the designer was shocked - but happy to oblige.

"We'll do whatever you want, as long as it's within the realm of certification," says Sean Gillespie, executive vice-president for sales of Flying Colours, a North American aviation services company.

"Carbon fiber, we've used it before, but usually it's used as a trim."

The market for private jets - sometimes called business or executive jets - is a small but fast growing aviation segment in China, where rapid economic development has created a surge of new wealth.

The first US Gulfstreams only arrived in the country in 2003, but a decade later there were 248 business jets in China, a 28 percent leap on 2012's figure, according to consultancy Asian Sky Group.

Customers include Jack Ma of e-commerce giant Alibaba, in the process of a multibillion dollar share offer in the United States, and Wang Jianlin of Wanda Group, which bought the US cinema chain AMC.

"Buyers can be in their 20s or in their 70s. They can be in real estate, investment, oil and gas. They are from all over China," says Jason Liao, head of consultancy China Business Aviation Group.

"There is notypical Chinese buyer."

One thing they have in common is tens of millions of dollars available to buy their own planes. European firm Airbus has just started offering an $80 million budget version of its corporate jet in China, with a predesigned cabin instead of a fully-customised one.

They can be swayed by the little details. So Gulfstream has a place for a rice cooker on board, Brazil's Embraer can sync an iPad to adjust lights and climate control, and Airbus offers a round table for playing mahjong.

Chinese billionaires' most common dest inations are nearby Asian cities such as Hong Kong, Macao and Singapore for gambling and entertainment, but they nonetheless prefer "long range, big cabin" aircraft with the ability to cross the Pacific and bring North America within reach, Airbus and Ledbury Research say in a report.

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