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China’s wealthy struggle to find private jets as travel rebounds

Wealthy passengers in China are having to book private jets weeks in advance on sought-after routes as companies struggle to meet surging demand after the country’s exit from zero-Covid.

Beijing’s decision late last year to scrap mandatory quarantine for inbound arrivals and reopen its borders, pivoting away from previous tight curbs on travel, has sparked a scramble to charter aircraft, in an echo of the clamour for private flights seen in other markets during the pandemic.

The number of domestic and international flights made on private jets from mainland China was 32 per cent higher in January compared with last year and 10 per cent higher than pre-pandemic levels in 2019, according to aviation data firm WingX.

Demand for private jets has also been driven by the slow reopening of international commercial services between China and the rest of the world, while some of the country’s wealthy sold their private aircraft during the pandemic.

Asian Sky Group, which offers private jet charter brokerage services to wealthy clients, said jets in China are facing significantly “tight availability” after the borders reopened. “Sometimes we simply cannot secure the jet that the client wants,” said charter services manager Daniel Tsang.

A private jet charter from Shanghai to Bangkok now costs about $120,000 for a maximum of 13 people in a Bombardier Global 6000, according to Tsang, compared to less than $100,000 before the pandemic.

Other popular international destinations from China include Singapore — where increased numbers of wealthy Chinese are parking their assets — and Japan.

Availability is also tight on heavily used domestic routes. Paul Desgrosseilliers, chairman of Metrojet Haite Business Aviation which owns Shenzhen-based Funian Aviation, has seen clients struggle to secure a Gulfstream 550 at short notice to fly between Beijing and the southern commercial hub of Shenzhen. Funian has already “received many requests” for April and beyond, he said.

China still does not offer tourist visas. With inbound travel low, many commercial carriers only offer limited connections to China, adding to the demand for private jets, said Jolie Howard, chief executive of Hong Kong-based charter service L’voyage, which serves the mainland Chinese market.

Howard said “second- and third-generation [wealthy families] as well as tech entrepreneurs” are major clients.

With reservations booked as far as April, there is a high demand for long-haul flights, she said. Clients now need to book weeks in advance to secure a flight on sought-after routes where bookings could previously be made just days ahead.

Many rich people in China sold their private jets last year, Howard said, taking advantage of “favourable” prices during the pandemic as global demand for used private jets rose.

The number of private jets in mainland China dropped from 345 at the end of 2020 to 301 by the end of last year, according to aviation data company Global Sky Media, which is owned by Asian Sky Group.

Overall, China remains a relatively small market for private jets compared with the US, which industry figures suggest has as many as 15,000.

L’voyage expects business to increase by more than 50 per cent from last year. Howard said the company was looking to lease three more aircraft.
Funian plans to add several new jets to its charter fleet in the coming year, on top of the two aircraft it has under lease agreements.

Some business aircraft manufacturers are also optimistic about the Chinese market.

Bombardier, one of the world’s biggest makers of private jets, told the Financial Times that China remained an important post-pandemic market “with a lot of room for growth in both the sales of our aircraft as well as after-market services for existing owners” and demand driven by larger-bodied jets.

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