The new Airbus A319 (Image: Airbus)
In a week during which an executive from the Canadian aircraft maker Bombardier said he expects China to become "a top customer to the aviation industry" over the next two decades and the New York Times profiled China's shady but proliferating "black flights," China's largest VIP charter flight provider Beijing's Deer Jet Co. Ltd took delivery of Asia's first ACJ319 from the Airbus Corporate Jet Center (ACJC). Set to shuttle Chinese elites around the country from Deer Jet's Beijing home base, the purchase of the new, state-of-the-art jetliner indicates that demand for charter flights, and the level of service expected, among ultra high net worth Chinese is increasing rapidly. With its new jet, Deer Jet is now the first and only Chinese operator with an ACJ in charter service.
Deer Jet was established in 1995 as one of the key subsidiaries of the Hainan Airlines Group (HNA), China's fourth-largest commercial airline, and in 1998, Deer Jet became the first Chinese member of the NBAA (National Business Aviation Association), the world's largest business aviation association. As of May 2011, Deer Jet operates a total of 39 corporate jets, 21 of which are owned by Deer Jet and 18 of which are managed for others.
Sporting the first charter cabin tailored for Chinese travelers (much like the "Phoenix" interior recently debuted by Airbus), Aviation Week reports that Deer Jet's new ACJ319 features a cabin designed by Sylvain Mariat, the ACJC's in-house creative designer, and installed by the Airbus Corporate Jet Center in Toulouse. Dark wood and white marble are used to "create an environment that brings spiritual peace and tranquility," according to Mariat. The ACJ cabin comprises a forward private office with ensuite bathroom and shower and fold-out sofa bed. In the middle cabin, two club-four seating areas, each with tables. The aft section of the ACJ is fitted with 20 electrically-actuated flat-bed cocoon seats, each with its own video display. Certified to carry up t0 28 passengers, the cabin also features full wi-fi Internet access and an in-flight entertainment system.
Since entering the Chinese corporate jet market in 2005, Airbus has already built a strong presence in the mainland as well as Hong Kong and Macau. According to Airbus, over the past six years it has sold 25 jets in China, and expects to sell about five new jets annually over the next five years.
Zhang Peng, vice president of Deer Jet, introduces the ACJ at this week's press conference (Image: Hexun)
According to the Chinese-language news portal Hexun, at the press conference marking the launch of China's first Airbus ACJ, David Velupillai, marketing director of Airbus China, said that Airbus sees great potential in China's aviation market, particularly in the Chinese VIP charter flight sector. Chinese orders now comprise a quarter of Airbus' global corporate jet sales, and the company expects this proportion to grow to even more within the next several years, Velupillai added.
Jing Daily has previously highlighted China's quietly booming private and business jet industry, an area with great potential but huge obstacles, not least of which is the Chinese military's tight control of low-altitude airspace. (Which is, in turn, fueling the growing number of "black flights" mentioned in the New York Times article.) As we recently pointed out:
In mainland China there are a number of regulations in China for flying a private jet: an airworthiness license for the plane issued by the Civil Aviation Administration of China, a valid pilot license and a flight plan approved by the military and civil aviation administration. A China Economic Review article noted that “low” airspace (less than 30,000 feet) is tightly controlled by the military. As such, many wealthy individuals in China are taking an “I bought it and I can fly it” approach with their private aircraft, shirking the regulations and jetting around the country illegally.
Though the consensus seems to be that China's private aviation industry is poised to become one of the largest in the world -- after all, China has the world's largest population and currently the fastest-growing economy, yet only a small percentage of the number of corporate jets found in the U.S. -- it will likely take many years for the industry to fully develop. In spite of the efforts of companies like Deer Jet to build the high-end aviation services industry in China, owing to tight regulations, limited hanger space, the risks inherent in investment and high costs of operation, and underdeveloped infrastructure, it's an industry that has a lot of work ahead of it.