Air China is reviewing its business jet operation following an unprofitable first seven months and may return its Gulfstream IV when the lease expires in October.


The carrier is instead looking at switching to smaller aircraft, which may be a better match for China's fledging VIP business jet charter market. The other three business jet operators in mainland China - Hainan Airlines, Shanghai Airlines and Shandong Airlines are also unprofitable but do not have the flexibility to return aircraft because they are generally owned.


A source at Shanghai Airlines says its Raytheon Hawker 800 is only flying 20-40h/month, though it plans to add a second in December. A source at Shandong's Rainbow Jet subsidiary says its two Bombardier Challenger 604s are averaging about 40h/month and the carrier is also reluctant to add aircraft. Hainan's six Hawker 800s are being flown slightly more frequently because the carrier has been in the market the longest. "There are not too many aircraft, but the price is too high for the customer," says the source.


Hawker 800s cost about $2,500/h for a domestic flight while Challenger 604s cost about $4,000/h and a GIV slightly more. The operators charge a few hundred dollars extra for international flights.


The Air China source says it is too early to tell what changes may result from the review of its business aircraft unit, but it could focus more on operating or managing aircraft on behalf of owners. He confirms Air China has already been contracted to operate later this year a Bombardier Learjet 45 acquired in February by new Japanese charter company Global Wings, which plans to offer VIP services between Japan and China.

Source: Flight International