15 September 2019
A Chinese businessman takes a look inside an executive jet during a recent aviation show in Shanghai. Photo: AFP
A Chinese businessman takes a look inside an executive jet during a recent aviation show in Shanghai. Photo: AFP

China private jet market takes off with super rich

It’s not easy being a salesman of private jets in China these days.

Not that there are less super-rich people in the country. Despite the slowing economy, the number of billionaires in China rose by 41 to 358 last year, and the ranks of multimillionaires are also growing like mushrooms.

But with President Xi Jinping’s intensified campaign against graft and extravagant lifestyle, potential buyers would probably prefer to keep a low profile rather than be the owners of this rich man’s toy that could cost tens of millions of dollars.

There’s also the fact that the military controls most of the country’s airspace, which means lots of restrictions in landing, take-offs and routes. There’s also the lack of infrastructure for private planes; there are just 286 landing sites suitable for these types of aircraft, Agence France-Presse says, citing state media reports.

Makers of private jets remain unfazed, however. The market for executive jets is still growing fast. The first Gulfstream jets arrived in the country only in 2003, but a decade later there were 248 business jets in China, a 28 percent jump from 2012.

Customers include Alibaba chairman Jack Ma, whose e-commerce flagship is set to launch a lucrative share offering in New York, and Wanda Group boss Wang Jianlin, whose company snapped up the US cinema chain AMC.

“Buyers can be in their 20s, in their 70s. They can be in real estate, investment, oil and gas. They are from all over China,” Jason Liao, head of consultancy China Business Aviation Group, was quoted as saying. “There is no typical Chinese buyer.”

Plane designers try to make small adjustments to their aircraft to conform with the taste and lifestyle of their Chinese clients. Gulfstream, for example, has a place for a rice cooker on board, Brazil’s Embraer allows the owner’s iPad to adjust the lights and temperature inside the cabin, while Airbus offers a round table for playing mahjong.

Amid the lifestyle checks on cadres and their business cronies, it’s probably wise to pitch private planes as a business investment rather than a luxury.

“Maybe not getting into the biggest and flashiest airplane is the best approach these days,” Asian Sky’s general manager Jeffrey Lowe tells AFP.

“Other than that, [rich Chinese] still have a definite need for the aircraft and most of them are finding ways to buy.”

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An Airbus A319 private jetliner features a luxury bathroom. Photo: AFP

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