China’s Private Jet Market: Who’s Flying?

Unveiling China’s Very Private, Private Jet Buyers

Zhang Yue's private jet and helicopter

Zhang Yue’s private jet and helicopter

As Jing Daily wrote last year, a growing number of China’s ultra-wealthy, having already purchased their luxury cars and villas, are turning to the skies for their next major purchase — a private jet. Although the private aviation industry in China is plagued by red tape, regulatory ambiguity, and an ever-growing number of “black flights“, jet makers are optimistic about the market, regularly referring to China as something of a “blank slate”. As of this April, upwards of 90 private jets had been officially registered in China, although the actual number is likely much higher, compared with almost none just a decade ago. Compare this to the more than 10,000 private jets currently in operation in the United States, and it’s not surprising that manufacturers are bullish on China.

So who are China’s private jet owners? Hong Kong media mogul Run Run Shaw is widely considered to be the first private jet owner in China, while Zhang Yue, founder and chairman of the Broad Group, is said to be the first mainland Chinese to hold that distinction. Currently, Zhang is thought to own three private jets and a personal helicopter.

Zhao Benshan,

Zhao Benshan

Another notable Chinese private jet aficionado is the actor and comedian Zhao Benshan. In 2009, the actor’s Benshan Media Group spent 200 million yuan (US$30 million) on its first Bombardier Challenger 850, then in a shrewd business move, Zhao and his team decided to rent out their jet when not in use, a very lucrative move. Currently, the Benshan Media Group is thinking of replacing its Challenger 850 with a newer Boeing or Gulfstream model.

According to People (Chinese), other well-known Hong Kong and mainland Chinese celebrities like actor (and budding art collector) Jackie Chan, actor and singer Andy Lau, filmmaker Feng Xiaogang, actress Fan Bingbing, actor Chen Daoming, and Zhang Ziyi either own or regularly use private jets.

As in other, more mature, markets, many of these Chinese businesspeople and celebrities are turning to private aviation for convenience. According to Zhang Yue, owning a private jet saves a great deal of time, particularly in the case of flight delays. Unlike other, more public pursuits like collecting sports cars or entertaining clients on one’s yacht, pragmatism is a driving force in the Chinese private aviation business. As Lin Xiangyu, general manager of Nanjing Co-Glory, recently told the Chinese periodical Oriental Outlook, “When Chinese businessmen buy private jets, they always weigh the model, price, cost and other aspects. They will select the most reasonable way to travel”.

Despite the growing popularity of private aviation among China’s elite, not everyone is convinced that the future for private jets in China is so bright. Tight and opaque regulations, limited hangar space, the high costs of operation, underdeveloped infrastructure and other issues continue to dog the industry, and the Chinese government’s tax crackdown on high-carbon luxuries like private jets and yachts will continue to squeeze buyers’ wallets for years to come. Still, interest in private aviation is growing in China along with the number of the country’s millionaires and billionaires, so this is one market that’s impossible to ignore.

 

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