A business jet on display attracts visitors at the 2018 ABACE air fair in Shanghai.
China will double the number of its existing business aircraft in the next decade, and will become the world's third-largest business aviation market only behind the United States and the Europe, according to market observers attending the 2018 ABACE air fair in Shanghai.
"We predict, in the next five years, China is going to become the third-largest market for business jets globally, behind the United States and Europe," said Andy Gill, Asia-Pacific senior director of business and general aviation at Honeywell Aerospace.
"If it continues, it will surpass Europe in the future, and be the second, or even the most important market for both business jets and helicopters," he added.
"China is going to double its existing business aircraft in terms of number of units in the coming 10 years," said David Dixon, president of Jetcraft Asia, adding that the figure could even exceed that.
In the last 10 years, Textron Aviation saw its Asia-Pacific sales of medium and large jets triple, with China following the same pattern, according to Jessica Pruss, president of Asia-Pacific sales and marketing at Textron Aviation. There are 45 business jets from Textron in service in China at the moment.
With the maturing of the Chinese market, buyers are getting more professional in their purchases by checking performance data rather than just the price or traveling distance, said Kevin Wu, international vice-president of sales for China and Mongolia at Textron Aviation.
According to Gill, the China market is driven by many factors, including the continued growth of China's GDP and the Belt and Road Initiative.
Dixon said in the past five years, Chinese business jet buyers changed from buying only brand-new planes to half of their purchases being for pre-owned ones.
"Now people are prepared to buy pre-owned aircraft ... It's evidence that the market is maturing," said Dixon. He added that it is an opportunity for Jetcraft, for which preowned aircraft accounts for up to 80 percent of its business.
Liao Xuefeng, chairman and CEO of China Business Aviation Group, said business jets are being increasingly seen as a highly efficient transportation tool rather than a luxury lifestyle. He added that "people are getting more rational when talking about corporate aircraft".
As a result, the purchase rate for pre-owned aircraft rose quickly from less than 10 percent three years ago to more than 50 percent at the moment, added Liao.
Industrial leaders noted that airspace remains a challenge for China's general aviation market development, although they said that the Chinese government is working to open more airspace and facilitate the general aviation sector.
"The minimum approval time for general aviation flights has been shortened from 15 days in the 1990s to between four and six hours at the moment," said Liao.
China's helicopter fleet doubled in the past five years, and is expected to continue this growth and double in five years, according to Patrick Moulay, senior vice-president of international sales at Bell.
Bell is going to triple its existing 110 helicopters in China in three to five years, as it received orders for 210 helicopters in China last year, said Moulay.
As of 2017, China was home to 330 business jets, along with 250 turboprop aircraft used primarily to support business, law enforcement, and humanitarian needs. More than 900 rotary-wing aircraft are based in China, of which 58 percent are turbine-powered types frequently utilized by business aviation users.
In its 13th Five-Year Plan, China plans to more than double its general aviation sector by 2020 from that of 2015. In 2017 alone, China built five new general aviation airports, added 56 general aviation enterprises, and 2,272 aircraft.
"If you look at the population and the GDP, the infrastructure being built in China supports a really good growth story, and is an opportunity to expand helicopters and biz jets. All of those things combined show that the market here in China will grow substantially over the next three to 10 years," Gill said.
The three-day Asian Business Aviation Conference & Exhibition, which opened on Tuesday, has attracted visits from business aviation leaders, entrepreneurs, flight department personnel, aircraft-purchase decision-makers and other high-level attendees.