Jets are for high-flyers
Nothing quite spells wealth like a private jet. Once the hardware is selected, it can be kitted out to the owner's specifications and personal taste.
Traditionally the preserve of rich businessmen or old money from Europe, the United States or the oil-rich Middle East, jet ownership is becoming popular on the mainland, where its highest rollers have developed a taste for the ultimate way to travel.
French aircraft manufacturer Airbus and interior partner Taeko Aircraft Engineering are targeting the mainland market and announced private jet collaborations this spring.
Special cabin fittings target Chinese clients. Airbus has sold 25 private jets in China.
'China is now our biggest growth market. Even though it is relatively new, it is already becoming a mature market in its demands. We now expect to sell five jets per year there,' says Francois Chazelle, vice-president of executive and private aviation.
'Our Airbus ACJ319 is our most popular model, accounting for almost a half the 170-plus Airbus corporate jet sales to date. It can fly eight passengers about 11,100km, meaning it can fly non-stop throughout the Asia-Pacific region and reach most parts of the world with one stop.
'In recent years, we have seen a lot of interest in the Airbus ACJ318 which, like the ACJ319 and ACJ320, offers the widest and tallest cabins of any business jet, existing or planned. It has a range of about 7,800km with eight passengers, bringing most of Asia-Pacific within non-stop range.'
The Phoenix cabin fit-out option, which seems in name, aesthetic and function to be designed to appeal to the mainland market, is expected to be popular across the region.
'It offers features designed to appeal to the Asian market and has been getting a lot of interest since we announced it earlier this year,' Chazelle says.
'The concept includes a six-person circular table, which appeals to customers because it reflects the arrangement that is typically found in Asian homes and offices. We can also offer a karaoke bar. Red, which is a popular colour in China, is used on cabin walls, though the customer can, of course, choose colours and fabrics they like best.'
Boeing Business Jets (BBJ) is the other main player in the large-format private jet sphere. To date, it has sold 10 jets in China.
'We are experiencing strong demand this year after showing [an aircraft] in Hainan and Shanghai in April,' says Jeff Dunn, BBJ sales director.
'We are delivering three BBJs to customers on the mainland this year; two are already delivered.'
The most popular model for the China market is the original BBJ, but demand for a larger cabin, 93.3 square metres as opposed to 75 square metres, has seen the BBJ 2 gain popularity.
Additionally, like Airbus, the manufacturer offers its largest commercial passenger models in private configurations. Interior fit-outs are highly personalised. 'The choice is unlimited,' Dunn says. 'Each aircraft interior is different to suit our customers' demands.'
Steve Taylor, president of BBJ, says: 'What is unique about the Chinese market, from our perspective, is that it has emerged so quickly.
'This has generated a whole new field of prospective buyers who are able to buy any aeroplane they want - and they simply want the best product available.'
One factor subduing an explosion of jet ownership among the mainland's nouveau riche is the tight regulations surrounding flying them.
At present, air space is carefully controlled by the government. Private jets may fly but expensive paperwork must be filed in good time, which can be an obstacle to quickly arranged trips.
Industry experts, jet operators and manufacturers have hinted that they all expect this situation to become more relaxed in the near future.
According to news agency Xinhua, Beijing's 12th five-year plan, for the 2011-2015 period, promotes the general aviation industry's development and will 'reform the air space management system, as well as increase the efficiency of the allocation and utilisation of air space resources'.
Reflecting on this situation, Chazelle says: 'Studies show that business aviation helps companies to grow the value of their business and become more successful.
'So if many large companies are using corporate jets, they can literally make an important contribution to growing a country's economy.'