These days it seems every self-respecting Chinese billionaire - and there are more than 100 of them - wants his own business jet. Corporations too are discovering private aviation's benefits for their top executives.

China is one of the fastest-growing regions for business aviation, with manufacturers predicting a market for several hundred jets, and a spate of new operators setting up to offer management and charter services.

Hong Kong, with its open air market and longer history of business jet ownership, is the centre of Chinese business aviation. About 70 business jets are registered there and others use it as a base. The largest and oldest operator is Metrojet, part of Hong Kong Aviation Group, owner of the Hong Kong Business Aviation Centre, the airport's only fixed-base operation. The group is part of magnate Sir Michael Kadoorie's business empire, which includes Hong Kong's Peninsula Hotel.

With no heritage of flight departments or even private aviation in China, few jet owners have the expertise to run their own aircraft and rely instead on management companies, most of them in Hong Kong.

Metrojet manages 25 business jets for clients, mostly Gulfstreams but also Bombardier Challengers, Cessna Citations and a Boeing Business Jet. It is also the main third-party maintenance provider at the HKBAC, where a third hangar will open early next year.

Although the Chinese economic boom has been good for Metrojet, Wyn Li, director of marketing and client relations, admits it does not have things all its own way. "Fifteen years ago, we were the only private jet company in Hong Kong," he says. "Now there are seven. "Competition is getting stronger."

Metrojet's service values set it apart, says Li. "We don't just aim to be biggest. We want to be best too. Our in-flight experience and menu is modelled on the Peninsula Hotel."

Metrojet employs about 70 pilots and 100 technicians at HKBAC. Most of its recruits are business jet pilots from North America. "We do employ ex-commercial guys, but they don't always have the right skills when it comes to talking to the customer," says Li. Because of that, recruits are tested on their "attitude" as well as flying competence. However, Li says the likely continued growth of business aviation in China makes the sector a "great career opportunity for pilots".

The one thing holding back Hong Kong's business aviation is a familiar problem: space. Although the authorities flattened a mountain to create a new island for the new international airport in the 1990s, capacity at HKBAC is at a premium, and there are no other airports in Hong Kong.

Because of this, Metrojet is opening a three-hangar maintenance facility at the old Clark air base in the Philippines, 1.5h flight away, which it will use for base checks. "Fuel there is 50% of what we pay in Hong Kong and parking is a lot cheaper too," says Li. "Our objective is to have all our approvals there."

Source: Flight International