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 multi-billion dollar share offer in the United States, and Wang Jianlin of Wanda Group, which bought the US cinema chain AMC.
One thing they have in common: 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 pre-designed 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 mah-jong.
Chinese billionaires’ most common destinations are nearby Asian cities such as Hong Kong, Macau 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 said in a report.
Even so, manufacturers are quick to promote planes as a business tool, rather than a toy of the rich.
There are some dark clouds on the horizon for the market: more moderate economic growth and limits on flight paths since most of China’s airspace is controlled by the military, along with a lack of infrastructure for private planes.
China has just 286 landing sites suitable for these types of aircraft, according to state media.