The new status symbol for China's ultra rich businessmen: a private jet. But before this fad can truly take off, authorities have to loosen up strict regulations governing the domestic airspace.
BEIJING - In China, owning a private aircraft or a jet is becoming increasingly popular among the happy few who can afford such a thing.
A milestone came two weeks ago when Zhuhai Xirui General Aviation Company, a company based in Zhuhai, Guangdong Province, became the first Chinese fixed-base operator (FBO) providing general aeronautical and aviation services.
With the opening up of China's low-altitude domestic airspace, which should happen within the next decade, and the fact that China is the world's fastest growing market for luxury goods and largest spending power, private jets represent a huge potential market.
Zhuhai Xirui's core business is the sales of light airplanes manufactured by Cirrus Aircraft. Even though it was set up only a year ago, the company has already sold 14 jets. "We have more than 50 enquiries per day about buying a plane" says Chen Fei, Zhuhai Xirui's sales manager. This growing interest is the reason the FBO was set up, to provide support services such as fueling, hangaring, tie-down, maintenance and rental. "We can also act as a proxy to file flight plans and make flying a lot easier for private owners', Chen adds.
Zhuhai Xirui is already planning to open up its second operating base in Shenyang in the north-east of China this year.
Chinese authorities initiated the reform of their low-altitude airspace two years ago. A few pilot provinces and cities will be the first to benefit from this reform, including Zhuhai in Guangdong Province. Between now and 2015, the trials will be expanded nationwide, although still limited to relatively small areas.
According to one conservative estimate, out of the current 300 thousand "rich people" each worth over 10 million RMB (1.2 million €), 30% could be potential buyers of private jets.
The sale, care, and maintenance of these aircrafts is an industry estimated at around 30 billion RMB (3.5 billion €) annually, given current growth estimates.
At present there are only 200 private airplanes registered in China, mostly belonging to the rich businessmen of the Pearl River Delta region. In comparison America has 220 000.
Currently, many Chinese people own airplanes but do not fly them. Apart from the strict regulations on the sector and airspace control, there are only 70 airports in the country destined for general aviation, in comparison with 5000 in the U.SA.
This makes it relatively expensive to fly and own a private jet in China. Zhao Liancheng, Zhuhai Xirui's vice executive president considers that "the cost of civil flying can only be reduced if China has enough airports to build a network".
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Photo - David Sifry
*Newsbites are digest items, not direct translations