Businesses and high net worth individuals in China have sharply increased their use of private jets this year, with the total number of flights nearly doubling from pre-pandemic levels, as the country’s economic recovery leads to a shift in travel by business.
According to data from WingX Advance GmbH, a data company, the indoor usage of jets leased privately or exclusively for their owners increased 87% this year compared to the same period two years earlier.
The boom comes alongside China economic recovery of the coronavirus pandemic. Although the global pandemic began in China at the end of 2019, the ruling Communist Party managed to bring it under control relatively quickly by sealing the country’s borders and imposing severe lockdowns and mass testing.
China’s growth has outpaced other major economies, exceeding pre-pandemic rates late last year and restrictions on domestic travel have been relaxed.
Richard Koe, managing director of WingX, said the frequency of commercial flights around the world was still down 29% this year from last year, while private jets are 18% busier but remain down compared to 2019.
Private jet operators say rising demand in China also reflects remaining limitations of commercial airlines, as well as executives’ concerns about sharing planes with large numbers of other passengers.
“Private jets can fly to places where commercial airlines are just shut down completely,” said Jenny Lau, president of Sino Jet, a business jet operator.
Li Bokai, president of operator Business Aviation Asia, estimated that a passenger on a commercial flight could be in contact with more than 1,000 people, compared to just 10 on a typical business jet.
Operators said the most popular destinations were Beijing, Shanghai and Shenzhen. A flight from Shanghai to Shenzhen costs around $ 45,000 for up to 15 people in a Gulfstream G550 according to L’VOYAGE, a Hong Kong-based private jet charter broker.
The company said it has seen demand for charter flights from companies that have benefited from the pandemic, such as mask makers and pharmaceutical companies.
Contrary to the higher national appetite, international private jet travel from China has almost dried up, according to WingX data. The Chinese government has imposed stricter restrictions on overseas arrivals after a previous wave of repatriation flights.
“For private jets carrying passengers from international routes, it is very difficult to get the permits granted for these flights,” Lau said.
International private jet flights to and from China are down 91% this year compared to the same period two years earlier, according to WingX data.
Thomas Flohr, president of VistaJet, the private jet company, said repatriation flights between the United States and China accounted for half of their total flights between countries in 2020.
Lau said his fleet brought many foreign students and senior citizens with medical needs back to China, as well as a 60-person business delegation from Wenzhou stranded in Florence last April.
Operators see opportunities for post-pandemic expansion as business aviation still has low penetration in China.
“Now that they [companies] realized the convenience of business jets, even after the epidemic, they will continue to use them, ”Li added.