China opens skies to private air transport

After years of waiting for China to lift heavy restrictions on airspace, wealthy travellers and aircraft manufacturers have reason to celebrate - the country's skies are opening up to private flights.

The makers of helicopters and small business jets are predicting a major bump in sales - France's Dassault Falcon just moved its Asia office from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing, which it called the new "centre of gravity" for the market.

The private air travel industry "will be one of the fastest-growing sectors in the next 10 years", Frank Lee, chairman of China Private Aviation Company, a consultancy offering aircraft acquisition and charter services, told AFP.

The airspace over China - the world's third-largest country by surface area after Russia and Canada - is under strict military control, but the People's Liberation Army recently loosened its iron grip over the skies.

In the past, authorities needed a week's notice for approval of a private flight. Under the new regulations, the thumbs-up can be given within a day, sometimes in just a few hours.

The Chinese government, which encourages its major state-owned conglomerates to invest abroad - especially in Africa, where the commercial air service is patchy - has finally understood the need for private aviation, Lee said.

Some business jets are now able to take Chinese executives from Beijing to London, Nairobi and Los Angeles without refuelling stops.

"Each year, the growth rate in the sector is more than 30 percent and we see a trend of acceleration," Lee said.

Of course, sales in the nascent Chinese market are starting from a rather low point. More than two thirds of the 15,000 business jets in operation around the world are in the United States, while just 150 are in China.

John Rosanvallon, the head of Dassault Falcon, admits it will be a "brutal" start for market players in the Asian nation, with clients "immediately looking for the biggest planes".

"Within two or three years, China will represent not one but 10 percent of our market worldwide," Rosanvallon predicted.

In the medium term, Dassault is hoping to sell about 10 business jets a year in China, at a list price of between 30 and 50 million dollars.

The French firm was not as quick to jump on the Chinese market as US company Gulfstream, which says it currently has a 63 percent market share on large-cabin business jets in China, including Hong Kong and Macau.

"We are very encouraged by these figures," Jeff Miller, vice president of communications for Gulfstream, told AFP.

"Air traffic control procedures in China have become a lot more flexible, expediting the filing of flight plans. This has made the use of business jets much more practical and advantageous."

Chinese millionaires looking for a way to spend their money often buy a private jet "to show off" their new-found wealth or get one up on a rich contact, according to Walter Wang, the editor-in-chief of JET Asia Pacific magazine.

Some large-cabin private jets owned by Chinese high-flyers are however grounded, as they lack the proper pilots and crew, Wang said.

"Sometimes it exceeds their needs. Gradually they will become more rational," he told AFP.

In April next year, plane makers will flock to the southern island of Hainan for its annual yacht, jet and "luxury lifestyle" trade show - a must for the country's jet-setters and top-level executives.

The outlook is just as rosy in China for makers of helicopters and smaller jets, with the world's major manufacturers - Eurocopter, Bell, Robinson, Agusta and Cessna - poised to enter the market.

Last month, the State Council, or cabinet, and the powerful Central Military Commission published a joint circular on the "progressive opening" of China's low-altitude airspace, where such aircraft tend to fly.

As with the larger planes, authorisations of flight plans will come more quickly - opening up the skies for tourism flights and quick business trips between regions.

Developers are already jumping at the chance, building helipads at resorts, golf courses and even organic farms to offer the wealthy an opportunity to escape China's polluted mega-cities for a day of fresh air, Lee said.

Rescue workers will also benefit from the move. The massive Sichuan earthquake in May 2008, which left nearly 87,000 people dead or missing, revealed the country's severe lack of helicopters.

Sport
tennisLive: Follow all the updates from Melbourne as Murray faces Czech Tomas Berdych in the semi-final
Arts and Entertainment
'The Archers' has an audience of about five million
radioA growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried
Arts and Entertainment
Henry VIII played by Damien Lewis
tvReview: Scheming queens-in-waiting, tangled lines of succession and men of lowly birth rising to power – sound familiar?
News
Joel Grey, now 82, won several awards for his role in Cabaret
people
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Sport
Harry Kane celebrates scoring the opening goal for Spurs
footballLive: All the latest transfer news as deadline day looms
Arts and Entertainment
Master of ceremony: Jeremy Paxman
tvReview: Victory for Jeremy Paxman in this absorbing, revealing tale
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Recruitment Genius: Group Sales Manager - Field Based

    £21000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Located on the stunning Sandban...

    Guru Careers: Email Marketing Specialist

    £26 - 35k (DOE): Guru Careers: An Email Marketing Specialist is needed to join...

    Recruitment Genius: Tour Drivers - UK & European

    Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity to join a is a...

    Old Royal Naval College: ORNC Visitor Experience Volunteer

    Unpaid voluntary work: Old Royal Naval College: Join our team of friendly volu...

    Day In a Page

    Isis hostage crisis: Militant group stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    Isis stands strong as its numerous enemies fail to find a common plan to defeat it

    The jihadis are being squeezed militarily and economically, but there is no sign of an implosion, says Patrick Cockburn
    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action

    Virtual reality: Seeing is believing

    Virtual reality thrusts viewers into the frontline of global events - and puts film-goers at the heart of the action
    Homeless Veterans appeal: MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    MP says Coalition ‘not doing enough’ to help
    Larry David, Steve Coogan and other comedians share stories of depression in new documentary

    Comedians share stories of depression

    The director of the new documentary, Kevin Pollak, tells Jessica Barrett how he got them to talk
    Has The Archers lost the plot with it's spicy storylines?

    Has The Archers lost the plot?

    A growing number of listeners are voicing their discontent over the rural soap's spicy storylines; so loudly that even the BBC's director-general seems worried, says Simon Kelner
    English Heritage adds 14 post-war office buildings to its protected lists

    14 office buildings added to protected lists

    Christopher Beanland explores the underrated appeal of these palaces of pen-pushing
    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Human skull discovery in Israel proves humans lived side-by-side with Neanderthals

    Scientists unearthed the cranial fragments from Manot Cave in West Galilee
    World War Z author Max Brooks honours WW1's Harlem Hellfighters in new graphic novel

    Max Brooks honours Harlem Hellfighters

    The author talks about race, legacy and his Will Smith film option to Tim Walker
    Why the league system no longer measures up

    League system no longer measures up

    Jon Coles, former head of standards at the Department of Education, used to be in charge of school performance rankings. He explains how he would reform the system
    Valentine's Day cards: 5 best online card shops

    Don't leave it to the petrol station: The best online card shops for Valentine's Day

    Can't find a card you like on the high street? Try one of these sites for individual, personalised options, whatever your taste
    Diego Costa: Devil in blue who upsets defences is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

    Devil in blue Costa is a reminder of what Liverpool have lost

    The Reds are desperately missing Luis Suarez, says Ian Herbert
    Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

    Ashley Giles: 'I'll watch England – but not as a fan'

    Former one-day coach says he will ‘observe’ their World Cup games – but ‘won’t be jumping up and down’
    Greece elections: In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza

    Greece elections

    In times like these, the EU has far more dangerous adversaries than Syriza, says Patrick Cockburn
    Holocaust Memorial Day: Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears

    Holocaust Memorial Day

    Nazi victims remembered as spectre of prejudice reappears over Europe
    Fortitude and the Arctic attraction: Our fascination with the last great wilderness

    Magnetic north

    The Arctic has always exerted a pull, from Greek myth to new thriller Fortitude. Gerard Gilbert considers what's behind our fascination with the last great wilderness