BBC Home
Explore the BBC
BBC News
Launch consoleBBC NEWS CHANNEL
Last Updated: Monday, 17 November, 2003, 17:56 GMT
China's jet set takes to the skies

By Tim Luard
BBC News Online

Having recently sent its first man into space, China is now opening up its skies to the private planes of its new class of millionaires.

Shanghai businessman Li Lanhai is eagerly awaiting delivery of his 4-seat Robinson R-44 helicopter - worth 4 million yuan (US$482,000) - after receiving the go-ahead from the Chinese authorities to buy it from a US firm.

Mr Li is believed to be the first buyer of a light aircraft for private use on the Chinese mainland, the China Daily says.

Robinson helicopter
There are already a handful of privately-owned helicopters in China

"My other car is a helicopter," read the headline in the state-run English language paper.

Long-suffering victims of Beijing traffic jams may welcome the news of a possible alternative means of travel.

"Our Chinese driver is begging us to buy him a plane," said one foreign boss on Monday.

Until recently all private flight was banned in China.

The authorities were apparently nervous about the mobility and independence it would give to individuals who could afford it, according to David Learmount, Operation & Safety Editor of Flight International.

"They were also worried about private aviation's capacity to enable surveillance of regions and facilities," he told BBC News Online.


Low-altitude flying is still not permitted, and the cost of the purchase and overhaul of planes is still prohibitive for all but the very richest.

But there are not many places to sail one's yacht in China - and taking to the skies in one's own private jet looks like being a popular option for the growing numbers of entrepreneurs who have successfully followed former leader Deng Xiaoping's maxim that "it is glorious to be rich".

stretch limo
China's millionaires are looking for new ways to display their wealth

China is now said to have more young millionaires than any country other than the United States.

And it is becoming a lot easier than it was to flaunt your wealth, as any visit to a Shanghai nightclub or Guangzhou gourmet restaurant will show.

Executive jets have until now been the preserve of government officials, says David Chu, a wealthy Hong Kong businessman and politician with close links to the Beijing elite.

"There are no still privately owned jets that I have heard of, but some are now available for rent or charter to individuals and companies from Air China and other airlines," he told BBC News Online.

There are already a handful of private helicopters in China, and many young people already have their own Ultralights, or small sporting planes, each costing US$10-20,000, according to Mr Chu - himself an adventure sports enthusiast.


The international aeronautical business already lists China's state-run airlines as among its biggest customers of the moment, and it is likely to be equally excited by the long-term prospects for sales of private planes.

There could be havoc around airport runways and we may have a disaster in the near future
Chin E Lin,
National Cheng Kun university
There is a vast market for light planes in China. More than 10,000 will be needed in the next 10 years, an official at the state-run Aviation Industry Corporation told China Daily.

But how good are the flying skills of China's new high-flyers?

The authorities are simultaneously mapping out regulations for the purchase of private planes and for take-off procedures, according to the China Daily.

For the first few years light aviation in China is going to be a relatively high-risk operation compared with its equivalent in countries that have always permitted it, says Flight International's Mr Learmount.

"As a result of the old policy, there is a lack of infrastructure in China for light aviation, including suitable airfields and even the type of charts that relatively low-flying light aeroplanes need," he says.

At present the mainland has no proper system of airspace control at all, says professor Chin E Lin, an aviation specialist at Taiwan's National Cheng Kun university.

"Unless the authorities issue rules soon to control these new flights by small aircraft, there could be havoc around airport runways and we may have a disaster in the near future."

China embarks on US buying spree
13 Nov 03  |  Business
China Airlines back in the dock
03 Jun 03  |  Asia-Pacific

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites


News Front Page | World | UK | England | Northern Ireland | Scotland | Wales | Politics
Business | Entertainment | Science/Nature | Technology | Health | Education
Have Your Say | Magazine | In Pictures | Week at a Glance | Country Profiles | In Depth | Programmes
Americas Africa Europe Middle East South Asia Asia Pacific