Companies predict increasing opportunities as deregulation begins to take hold

Business aircraft manufacturers are hoping for a flood of sales in China as the market opens and more Chinese airlines launch business jet charter operations.

In October, Air China will become the fourth Chinese business jet operator, along with Hainan Airlines, Shangdong Airlines and Shanghai Airlines. Manufacturers say China is becoming their largest Asian market, with China Southern Airlines also eyeing business jets. "Life from a business aircraft point of view is becoming much easier. The market will grow as constraints disappear," says Bombardier regional vice-president David Dixon.

Airspace restrictions are slowly being removed and flight plans can be filed with less notice. But last-minute flights are still prohibited - major Chinese airports lack fixed- base operator facilities and regulations prevent companies from operating their own aircraft. Local companies are also not ready to commit to entire aircraft or even fractional ownership, making charters the only alternative. "We all agree there will be a market for business jet charters in China, but the question is how much and when," says Gulfstream regional vice-president Jeffrey Lowe.

The reliance on airlines as the vehicle for business jet expansion in China appears to have so far given an edge to Bombardier, which has the largest market share in mainland China with 14 aircraft. Bombardier plays up commonality between the CRJ and Challenger 600/800 and the role FlexJet Asia Pacific, which has booked 580h since launching in early 2002, has in promoting corporate jet charters.

Embraer hopes to emulate Bombardier's success as it begins to assemble ERJs and potentially corporate variants in China. There are no Embraer business jets operating in China, but it has just begun offering airlines an attractive package of locally-assembled regional and business jets with commonality.

Gulfstream also has no aircraft in mainland China, but that will change in mid-October when Air China receives a used Gulfstream IV. Industry sources say Air China is already looking at adding a second business jet type for its new charter operation, and, last month, test-flew a Boeing Business Jet. Sources say Hainan is also looking at new business jet types. Hainan and Shanghai operate Raytheon Hawker 800s.

Source: Flight International