The new status symbol for China's ultra rich businessmen: a private jet.
But before this fad can truly take off, authorities have to loosen up strict regulations governing the domestic airspace.
By Kristine Lim
SHANGHAI: China is gearing up for burgeoning growth in its business aviation market as it plans to build its first airport dedicated to this sector by 2015.
But before it can really take off, regulations will need to be tightened to ensure that safety standards are met.
At Asia's largest business aviation event held in Shanghai, nearly 30 models of private jets were on display.
Private jets are becoming popular and it is not just among businessmen.
They are quickly rising up the shopping lists of the noveau-riche.
There are now about 600 billionaires - in US dollar terms - in China, and at least 30 per cent are said to be planning to buy a private jet.
Rishiraj Singh, who is Director and Business Leader of Business and General Aviation Asia Pacific at Honeywell (China), said: "China itself is a great story.
There were 10 deliveries in 2010 to 43 deliveries in 2011. There are 225 business jets today in China, inclusive of Hong Kong. It's poised to near 300 soon and will possibly double that in the next five to seven years. That's why it's tremendous. It's a game changer."
But in reality, private jet owners may not be able to fly as frequently as they like to, even though they own a jet.
As a relatively young market, China still lacks the infrastructural support. There is currently no airport dedicated to business aviation.
The authorities are planning to build a few by 2015 but they also stressed the importance of ensuring a gradual and steady growth.
It's expected that the authorities may try to keep growth in check with regulations such as air traffic control and the usage of air space.
Civil Aviation Administration of China deputy administrator Xia Xinghua, said: "Currently, China's business aviation is facing exploding growth. The government and industry regulator will have to strengthen our regulations according to circumstances to ensure the safety of the industry."
There's also a question of whether there's enough talent and manpower to meet the growing demand.
Metrojet CEO Bjorn Naf said: "There is not much expertise in the market. You can't really find pilots readily available or engineers with the qualification, expertise and experience. I think it's really relatively easy to sell an aircraft but who will fly and maintain these aircraft, and where do you park them? It will take time as infrastructures need to come up and people need to be trained."
Industry-watchers say the shortage of pilots and other technical expertise are becoming a bottleneck in China's aviation.