Asia’s business aviation fleet grows…slowly

 - October 4, 2006, 9:32 AM

The impressive long-term economic growth in the Asia-Pacific region over the past few decades has not yet yielded a commensurate growth in business aviation. The number of business jets registered in the region has increased by barely 8 percent over the last 10 years, according to London-based aviation consulting group Airclaims. By comparison, a recent analysis by the same company showed 45-percent growth in the European business jet fleet during essentially the same period.

According to the Economist Intelligence Unit, the region as a whole (excluding Japan) will have achieved a gross domestic product (GDP) growth of about 5.9 percent by the end of its 2003 to 2007 forecast period.

In fact, there are significant variations in economic growth across this vast region, with rising star China set to achieve 9.1-percent GDP growth this year and 8.1 percent next year. The comparable growth rates for Japan are 1.4 percent and 1.8 percent, while the Indian economy is growing at an annual rate of around 7 percent.

Airclaims assessed the jet fleets of the following Asia-Pacific states: Australia, Brunei, Cambodia, China (including Hong Kong and Macau), French Polynesia, Guam, India, Indonesia, Japan, Kazakhstan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Northern Marianas Islands, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, the Philippines, Singapore, South Korea, Taiwan, Thailand, Turkmenistan and Vanuatu.

At the end of 1995, there were 195 business jets registered in these countries; by the end of last year that figure had crept up to 211. The high point between these dates came in 1997 when there were 215 jets, before the region’s financial crisis of the late 1990s brought the figure to 162 by the end of 2000.

But national fleet registrations don’t tell the whole story. A glance through the U.S. register reveals that some Asian firms (especially Japanese) still register their aircraft offshore, although even factoring these aircraft into the equation does not radically alter the conclusion that the region is an underachiever in terms of business aviation growth.

Turboprop Use

Then there are the turboprops to consider. According to the annual Biz-Jet and Turboprops survey from UK publisher Buchair, there are almost 500 turboprop aircraft in the Asia-Pacific region. However, once aircraft operated purely for military and other government purposes are removed from the sum, the total falls to around 325.

Nonetheless, there is clearly still a significant business and utility application for turboprop aircraft in this part of the world, especially considering the need to land on remote, unprepared landing strips. Both Australia (169) and Japan (107) have large turboprop fleets, although many of the aircraft are owned by government bodies and are used for non-corporate functions such as Australia’s famous Royal Flying Doctor Service.

Australia (66), India (31), Japan (22) and China (21) have the largest jet fleets in the region–nearly two-thirds of the last year’s total of 211. China’s fleet has grown by 250 percent since the end of 1995–albeit from a low base of just six jets, and through the statistical incorporation of the Hong Kong and Macau fleets. Japan’s fleet grew by 83 percent during the same period, while India’s has increased by 29 percent and Australia’s by almost 14 percent.

In the deficit column, Indonesia’s jet fleet has declined by 65 percent from 20 aircraft in 1995 to just seven last year. Wealthy Brunei lost six of its 10 jets in the same period.

Over the past decade Bombardier has achieved the most impressive increase in business jet market share for the Asia-Pacific region, while Cessna has maintained its leadership position. Dassault, Gulfstream and Raytheon have all lost some ground, although not to a devastating extent.

As of the end of last year, Cessna accounted for 58 of the 211 registered jets (27.4 percent of the total). Close on its heels is Bombardier with 55 jets (26.1 percent). Raytheon is some way back with 28 jets (13.3 percent).

Among the manufacturers with inventory in the region, there is a diverse spread of specific jet types in service, with no single type favored overwhelmingly. The Chinese fleet now includes five Raytheon Hawker 800XPs, four Bombardier Challengers and a pair of Gulfstream G200s. In Australia there are another seven Challengers, along with about half a dozen each of the Cessna Citation I, II and Bravo.

Given the large distances to be covered both in the region and on intercontinental trips it is unsurprising that there appears to be a fairly high proportion of longer-range business jets, compared with, say, Europe, where there are much larger numbers of smaller aircraft.

Asian Fleet Aging

The average age of the Asia-Pacific business jet fleet has increased by about 14 months over the past decade. At the end of 1995 the average aircraft age was just under 13 years, and by the end of last year this had reached almost 14 years, two months.

Countries with above-average-age fleets include Cambodia (29 years), Indonesia (19), Myanmar (22), Pakistan (21) and Papua New Guinea (25). The younger aircraft are to be found in China (four years), Singapore (six), Taiwan (five) and Kazakhstan (eight).