China's growing billionaires' club is attracting the attention of private jet makers.
China's growing billionaires' club is attracting the attention of private jet makers as tycoons reach for the sky with the ultimate status symbol and big boys' toy.
Whether for business or pleasure, manufacturers reckon private aviation in China is set to take off in a big way.
Diamond Aircraft Industries, an Austrian-based plane manufacturer, is one of the foreign jet manufacturers eyeing the lucrative market.
Diamond established a joint venture with the Binzhou Dagao General Aviation Co Ltd in East China's Shandong Province in June.
The first 4-seat DA40 light plane is expected to leave the assemble line in October with a list price of around US$200,000, sources from the joint venture said.
The number of millionaires in China is growing, and more and more Chinese will have a chance to own their own planes, said Michael Feinig, Diamond's managing director.
"It is not far from a reality for wealthy Chinese people to be able to treat the private jet as a practical means of transport, creating an attractive market for us," Feinig was quoted by the 21st Business Herald as saying.
Insiders forecast China's business jet market will be worth over US$9 billion within 10 years, with the number of private jets expected to rise from 20-plus to more than 600.
"There are more private jets in the greater Los Angeles area than in the whole of China at the moment, but we expect it to be fast-growing," said David Dixon, Asia Pacific vice-president for regional jet maker Bombardier Aerospace.
Canada's Bombardier is also vying with traditional rivals Embraer SA of Brazil and Gulfstream, a unit of General Dynamics, for a slice of the private jet market in China - where the economy has been growing at nearly 9 per cent every year for almost a decade.
While still small, the number of Chinese able to afford the millions of dollars necessary to buy and operate their own aircraft is growing thanks to the express train economy.
The minimum worth needed to secure a spot on Forbes' list of China's 100 richest people rose to US$144 million last year from US$6 million in 1999, when the US magazine first published the list.
"More and more wealthy businessmen are interested in flying and a lot of aviation clubs have been established especially for them," Li Weijian, chairman of the Beijing PanAm International Aviation Academy Co Ltd, told China Daily.
Li's company is the first private-funded pilot training school the General Administration of the Civil Aviation of China (CAAC) has authorized to conduct business in the country.
Statistics from CAAC indicate that around 130 people have qualified to fly light planes since CAAC gave the nod to the issuing of private licences in August 1996.
"The demand for flying is expected to reach a peak in the coming five to 10 years," Li said.
The burgeoning private jet market has also been boosted by the nation's policy of easing control of airspace as well as relaxing restrictions on private pilot licences.
A plan is being worked out to open low-altitude airspace to facilitate more private flights, said Liu Gang, an official of the Air Traffic Control Committee of the Central Military Commission.
The plan has become a part of the commission's Eleventh Five-Year Plan (2006-10), he said.
Currently, China's airspace is controlled by the military to guarantee national and military security, and individuals are denied access to aviation matters.