China on the march

October 9, 2011

The China Business Aviation Group’s CBAJET press release begins by saying “the giant has awakened,” meaning that China is on the move, aviationwise. In a press conference, CBAJET’s Jason Liao explained the inevitability of China’s domination of the business jet market.

Liao says the Chinese bizjet market is expanding at 25 percent per year. By 2018 China will be the largest market in terms of aircraft delivered, with $11.68 billion worth of imports. That, compared to the United States’ $11.26 billion projected share of 2018 revenue from business jet sales.

And why not? Liao explained that China’s annual GDP growth has been 9.5 percent over the past 30 years. In its wake, China is—or soon will be—the largest automobile market in the world, the largest market for luxury goods in the world, and home to at least 3,800 individuals with a net worth of $500 million. Mercedes-Benz S500 big-body luxury cars can’t be imported fast enough, Liao says. And on top of that, Chinese account for the largest number of gamblers in Las Vegas.

As for aviation, all this wealth has had a trickle-down effect. Commercial aircraft sales have been growing at 18 percent per year, and 5,000 more such airplanes will be needed by 2030.

Business aviation shows equal promise, Liao said. So far this year, 70 business aircraft have been delivered to China, and he estimates annual growth of China’s bizjet market as 100 percent. The Chinese have the money, the product awareness and, increasingly, the freedom to fly. The Chinese government has made it easier and quicker to obtain flight plan clearances (“you can get one now in seven hours; it used to take weeks,” Liao said), and there is more hope of the government’s opening up the airspace below 18,000 feet msl to civilian use. And while 15 new airports are being built each year, there are still obstacles to China’s promised preeminence in business aviation. Chinese may be buying large-cabin jets hand over fist, but there is precious little ramp, hangar, or runway capacity to handle the influx. Because of these and other infrastructure deficiencies, the torrent of aircraft orders has been limited to a trickle of actual imports.

And that’s not all. China needs pilots, mechanics, fixed-base operators, and other aviation personnel. Over the next 20 years, Liao says 3,600 airline pilots will be needed—and there is no current pool of Chinese pilots who are up to the task. Result? Tremendous opportunities for foreign pilots and training firms. Anyone interested in flying, teaching, or helping establish general aviation infrastructure in China? Perhaps now’s your chance to get aboard the Chinese groundswell. “China is wide open for business,” Liao emphasized.

Thomas A. Horne

Thomas A. Horne | AOPA Pilot Editor at Large, AOPA

AOPA Pilot Editor at Large Tom Horne has worked at AOPA since the early 1980s. He began flying in 1975 and has an airline transport pilot and flight instructor certificates. He’s flown everything from ultralights to Gulfstreams and ferried numerous piston airplanes across the Atlantic.