China aviation event gives a nod to bizav

 - November 30, 2010, 3:40 AM

Last month’s China International Aviation & Aerospace Exhibition in Zhuhai provided a boost for those in business aviation growing tired of hearing about the country’s seemingly limitless, but so far unfulfilled, scope for growth in this sector. The number of business jets in China is set to soar from its current level of 100 or so to between 700 and 900 by 2019, according to the latest manufacturer projections made at the event.

Bombardier did its bit to help make this a reality when it announced a $121 million deal to sell five Challenger 300s to Donghai Jet, based in southern China. During the show, the charter operator also took delivery of the first Challenger 605 to be based in China.

Airspace access restrictions and infrastructure limitations are acknowledged to be a major inhibitor of bizav growth in China. So there was also good news on this score with an announcement from Chinese defense officials that, starting next year, the military will be loosening access to the country’s low-altitude airspace for general aviation traffic. This will result in three separate zones: areas remaining under full control, areas under surveillance and areas that can be freely used by operators filing flight plans in advance.

Overall, business aviation accounted for 10 of the 70 aircraft on display in Zhuhai with a roll-call that included the following: Embraer 650 (making its debut in China); Hawker Beechcraft 900XP and King Air 350i; Bombardier Learjet 60XR, Challenger 300 and Challenger 850; Cessna Citation Excel; Gulfstream G450; and a pair of Boeing Business Jets.

Air China announced that it would start to operate a business jet fleet out of Beijing Capital International Airport. This will compete directly with Hainan Airlines’ Beijing Capital Airlines–formerly Deer Jet–based at the same airport.

Meanwhile, Chinese leasing group MinSheng, which says it intends to buy 100 business jets over the next four years, announced a memorandum of understanding with Cessna. MinSheng’s chief legal advisor, David Tang, said the aim is “to promote and understand each other in China” but the agreement appears to make no mention of specific aircraft to be ordered.

Major commercial exhibits included Avic’s new ARJ-21 regional jet, which has now completed 900 hours of flight testing, and a new AC313 helicopter from the Chinese airframer. Commercial Aircraft Corp. of China (Comac) announced that the six planned variants of its new C919 single-aisle airliner could include a business jet version to compete with aircraft such as the Airbus A320 Prestige and the BBJ2. The manufacturer announced a deal covering sales of up to 100 C919s for Air China, China Southern Airlines, Hainan Airlines, CDB Leasing Company and Gecas.

Deals Announced
Embraer and Avic signed an MoU to establish a leasing agreement that could see the Chinese group’s leasing arm deliver up to $1.5 billion worth of the Brazilian airframer’s aircraft in China over the next five years. Embraer now predicts demand for 950 regional airliners in China over the next 20 years.

Xian Aircraft sold five of its MA600 twin turboprops in Zhuhai. The government of Laos is taking two copies of the ATR72 competitor, and China’s Joy Air is getting another three from Avic Leasing.

Separately, AgustaWestland sold an AW139 medium-twin helicopter to the police department of China’s Guangxi province.

Hawker Beechcraft announced the appointment of Scott Wells as its new field service representative for China and other north Asian markets. He is based at the company’s office in Beijing. The U.S. manufacturer has also boosted its sales team in the Asia-Pacific region. Jeff Anastas will serve as regional vice president for north Asia, while Dan Keady will hold the same position for south Asia and Australasia.

In total, the Zhuhai event drew 600 exhibitors from 35 countries. While providing a dynamic view of China’s vast aviation potential, the show was marred by poor organization, such as inadequate entrance procedures that resulted in trade visitors having to wait outside on the first morning before being admitted.