A dedicated business aviation airport within relatively easy reach of Beijing, China’s financial district, has been a dream of many a high-end businessperson in the region for some time. “It is no secret that Beijing Capital International Airport wants business aviation to go away, and no business aviation travelers want to go there anyhow because of the service they receive at the state-owned FBO there,” Superior Aviation Group CEO Timothy Archer told AIN. His company is building that business aviation airport, and a whole lot more. The project is titled Superior Aviation Town and Executive Airport.
“The idea morphed from a strategy session about how to [expand] Superior in China,” he explained. “We kept coming up against the lack of infrastructure. As we talked we wondered, do we build an airport? Do we build a manufacturing facility next to an airport? We agreed we needed to build a whole town centered on aviation,” he chuckled, remembering the moment. “We selected Shunyi district within Beijing province for location,” he said. The Shunyi district is 12 miles (20 km) from Capital Airport. That puts the estimated $3.2 billion project just 50 minutes’ drive time from the Beijing financial district.
Beyond that, “Shunyi is 3.5 hours from any major city in China [in a jet],” said Archer.
The timeline for building is aggressive, with groundbreaking set for just after the Chinese New Year 2015 (the end of February), and runway completion slated for 2017. Archer expects to have a completed city infrastructure, including manufacturing plants, exhibition space, greenways and occupied housing in its planned varieties by 2020. All progress, however, hinges on approvals from numerous Chinese government agencies. That process is well in progress, according to Archer.
Superior Aviation Group has acquired three square miles (five sq km) of land in Shunyi district that includes only an existing government building and a school. Just under two square miles (three sq km) is slated for a 7,800-foot (2,400-meter) hard-surface runway, taxiways, helicopter pads and aircraft parking areas.
Immediately adjacent to the runway, architects have placed a luxury manufacturers’ showroom, expansive exhibition hall, footprints for three Western-style FBOs, and even a test track (for taking that Lamborghini for a pre-purchase spin). The display buildings are scaled to Chinese tastes, representing more than 4 million square feet of real estate.
Western Goods Available, Duty Free
There is also a duty-free zone at the airport, critical, according to Archer, for attracting both the manufacturers and the customers. “We are not trying to lure any company away from its home manufacturing base,” Archer explained. “These manufacturing centers are designed to create Western goods in China for Chinese customers.” Research revealed that the Chinese like Western goods, but they don’t like having to go out of the country to acquire them. In Aviation Town the Western manufacturers can create and assemble on site, and have a ready customer base nearby that will be able to purchase these high-end luxury items for personal use without Chinese luxury goods taxation. There are even plans for a general aviation flight school and high-end aero club.
“Superior Aviation Group’s role is to provide our knowledge and leadership to make it easy and attractive for companies from around the world to be part of the growth of business aviation in China,” Archer said. The company is in talks with several international manufacturers looking to locate a facility in China. “Superior will have an airworthiness office dedicated to facilitating work with CAAC for any manufacturer that needs it for validation of its TCs. We can translate manuals to Mandarin, for instance, and of course we know the CAAC system and personnel and can help smooth certification in China for our resident manufacturers.” Superior’s management and development office opened on site in October last year.
The modern town beside the airport is laid out with greenways, including a park that weaves the Superior “S” through blocks of hotels, cafes, restaurants, apartments, manufacturing and assembly facilities, and finally, ringing the outskirts, garden villas. Superior is able to lease or sell properties to individuals or joint-venture prospects.
Archer is also counting on critical legislative changes that will make private flying feasible. “When you look at true legal flying in China today there are only five provinces with open airspace, and it is difficult to fly from Beijing to Shanghai,” said Archer. “That said, local governments will be able to inspect and approve airports by the end of this year. Yet China has a fear factor, and it will be a while before the local guys will be willing to put their mark on things,” he continued.
That said, Archer is optimistic. “Our success should stimulate other districts to invest in building similar airports to expand the country’s general aviation infrastructure so that people in China who buy airplanes will be able to use them fully,” he said.
An hour by air northwest from Superior Aviation Town, in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region, the Ordos Airport Industrial Zone (OAIZ) and China Aviation Investment Group, Ltd. (CAIG) have partnered to establish the Ordos World Aviation Expo Industrial Zone, with the goal of stimulating development of an indigenous aircraft manufacturing and services industry and, given the region’s gentle climate and beauty, promoting high-end tourism. Sponsors presented plans for the development at the NBAA Convention in the U.S. last fall. Wang Jian, OAIZ Party Committee Secretary, said the area’s prevailing weather and smog-free air made it an ideal location for aviation activities.
CAIG v-p Jiang Michael said planning for most of the development has been completed. An eight sq km Air Park will be the centerpiece of the $8 billion World Aviation City industrial zone, and include dedicated areas for general aviation, aircraft exhibitions, aviation education, aviation commerce and related activities, as well as tourism services, a shopping mall, amusement park, golf course and boutique hotel.
A new terminal, which will become the Air Park’s FBO, has already been built at Ordos Ejin Horo Airport, and a corporate aircraft exhibition at the fledgling development is planned for September 2015. “First opening” of World Aviation City is scheduled for August 1, 2016.
It’s universally acknowledged that China needs more general aviation support infrastructure for the industry to grow. Whether GA towns are the model that will achieve those ends, or whether these two will be the developments that prove their value, has yet to be demonstrated.
Neither developer could provide updates for AIN on the status of these projects, and neither are exhibiting or making presentations here at the show. However, it’s unlikely all the GA towns currently envisioned can succeed.
“They all want to follow the same model and do the whole industry value chain,” said AsBAA’s Wu. “This creates some internal competition and, in my opinion, results in waste.”
Fly-in Residential Community Sets Roots in Northern Beijing
Living with your airplane is fairly common in North America, but in China, it remains a dream among aviation enthusiasts and aspiring owners of personal aircraft. Dr. James Lee, who splits his time and business activity between Beijing and New York, opened his vision of a fly-in community in northern Beijing, near the Badaling section of the Great Wall. Named Chateau Lafite (the main common building is modeled after the Paris landmark chateau of that name), the development covers 220 acres and has capacity for up to 6,000 homes. To date, close to 1,000 families have bought sites and begun construction of their homes. So far, 100 families have moved in.
There are five hangars currently available, sized for light aircraft. The modest runway is suitable only for light sport aircraft, and government and military constraints remain a barrier. But Dr. Lee’s company, Lee World, is optimistic. Last August, the community held an opening ceremony, and plans for an air show on May16. A dozen or so aircraft will be on exhibit with five performing flying displays. The aviation area also includes a lounge, and the company covers all the costs associated with maintaining the runway, clubhouse and other infrastructure. Weather is usually suited for VFR flying, according to Lee. He has ambitious plans to launch similar residential communities throughout China, once restrictions are eased.