With the quest for air-charter services given a shot in the arm during the coronavirus crisis, China’s private aviation business buoys with optimism. It expects the momentum to be sustained, and those who have had the fortune of tasting private-jet travel to become loyal, long-term customers.
Amid challenging times, private jets have caught people’s attention, particularly when it concerns privacy and personal safety. The demand for private-jet chartering has gone up dramatically, be it transporting emergency medical products or people across continents. More people are coming to grips with what private aviation is and what it offers.
“It’s important for people to know that business-jet travel isn’t all about luxury, but also the safest, most convenient and most efficient transportation tool,” said a spokesperson for business-jet management company Sino Jet.
But, it isn’t a surprise seeing people knowing little about business aviation as it’s still in its infancy in China, compared with other mature markets like the United States and Europe.
According to a report by business aviation consultancy Asian Sky Group, by the end of 2019, there were currently 332 and 122 private jets in service on the Chinese mainland and in Hong Kong, respectively. By comparison, the US has more than 21,000 business aircraft taking to the skies.
“The consumption ability in China is limited or, in other words, the number of Chinese billionaires is relatively few,” said Lin Zhijie, an aviation industry analyst. “Meanwhile, it still sees a continued lack of infrastructure and qualified personnel within China — too few airports and insufficient airspace.”
The cost of owning a private jet is quite high, as owners need to pay for crew members and high taxes for local aircraft registration after purchasing the aircraft.
Parking areas and slots for private jets are scarce as well. Even for major hubs, such as Hong Kong International Airport, they face constant pressure when it comes to securing parking slots for business jets, especially during the peak season.
The Hong Kong Business Aviation Centre said it has been in close communication with the Airport Authority Hong Kong concerning requests for additional parking bays for business aircraft, particularly those locally-based. The number of business jets parked at HKIA, however, is not much different compared with the pre-pandemic level.
Nonetheless, global private-jet companies are bullish about the Asian market after seeing the strength of the industry in the past three months.
“We feel the Asian market will continue to be a major part of our revenue streams,” said Ian Moore, chief commercial officer of VistaJet.
“It’s a growing market. As a person who flies a lot commercially, and is fortunate enough to fly privately sometimes, I can only say it’s very difficult to go back once you’ve flown private.”