With a growing number of domestic entrepreneurs hitting it rich, demand for high-priced executive toys is growing, with several Chinese companies scheduled to debut small private aircraft in the near future.
Shenyang Aircraft Industry Group of China, a major manufacturer of fighter planes for the military, recently announced it will roll out a super-light plane this year, with a price tag ranging between 500,000 and 600,000 yuan (US$60,241 and US$72,289).
Shenyang is not alone.
Aircraft manufacturers in Nanjing, Shijiazhuang and Chengdu are all busy working on their own small planes mainly designed for corporate and private owners.
"As many Chinese entrepreneurs have made a big fortune from their private-owned businesses, small-sized planes are becoming affordable," said Wang Linjiang, chief designer and general manager of Nanjing Light Aircraft Co. Ltd.
His company began to design a five-seat AC-500 plane five years ago and plans to put it on the market early next year.
So far, they have received about 30 orders, "mostly from domestic private companies," said Wang, adding that many executives need a quick and convenient way to travel between branch offices around the country.
China's strictly controlled airspace could slow demand for the planes, but Wang said he was told by "a quite reliable source" that regulations will soon be relaxed.
While officials with the country's Air Traffic Management Bureau declined to confirm that report, they did say they're revising the current air traffic control rules.
"Actually, the revision work has been going on for more than a year and it's still under discussion. The move is aimed at simplifying procedures and making it more convenient for plane owners to fly," said an official with the bureau.
Current rules don't ban private aircraft, but pilots must get permission for every flight from government authorities in both the city of departure and the destination, which has greatly limited private ownership.
Currently, there are only a few privately owned planes on China's mainland, "no more than 10 as far as I know," said a professor at Tianjin-based Civil Aviation University of China.
If airspace rules are relaxed, there will be demand for about 500 private planes a year in the domestic market, predicts Wang Chuanmou, an official with Chengdu Aircraft Industrial Corporation.
(Shanghai Daily January 6, 2003)