Business aviation in China in 10 key moments

Alud Davies

China is one of the most exciting and dynamic business jet markets in the world. But it is also one of the most frustrating. Here we chart 10 key moments, identified by the China Business Aviation Group (CBAG), that tell the story of business aviation’s development in the country. From its earliest roots in 1995, right the way through the gold rush of the late 2000s, China’s business jet market has had more peaks and troughs than any other market still in its infancy.

According to a new list of the top 10 most important moments ‘ground zero’ was in 1995 when the first business jet delivered to a civilian entity entered the country.

The first business jets in China were quasi-military. China United Airlines, then the VIP transport division of the Chinese Army, ordered five Bombardier Challenger 601s, with the first delivery taking place in August 1986.

That first civilian aircraft was a Learjet 55 registered as B-3980. Although the aircraft only stayed in the country for three years before being sold onwards, the aircraft is important not only as it was the first business jet in the country, but also because its owner was Hainan Airlines, which would later go on to create its own business jet operator and management company – Deer Jet.

The aircraft operated its first charter flight on April 21st 1995, and operated a Beijing to Dunhuang and back again flight on behalf of ESSO.

Two years later, a major breakthrough came with the delivery of the first privately-owned business jet to be delivered into China. Broad Air Group, mostly commonly known for its air conditioning systems, took delivery of a Cessna CitationJet in October 1997. That aircraft is still with the company today, although it is now joined by a Citation Excel at its Guangzhou base.

The next two major developments according to CBAG were the founding of the Asian Business Aviation Association (AsBAA) in 1999, and the first Asian Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (ABACE) being held in 2005.

Although neither AsBAA nor ABACE are China-centric, each has helped immeasurably with the establishment of the industry in China. AsBAA has several China Chapters and has been key in lobbying the government to open its airspace and effect changes needed to help the industry grow.

ABACE is the premier business aviation show in the region. It was first held at Shanghai’s Hongqiao Airport in 2005 and continues to be held there to this day.

In the year that the first ABACE was held Hainan Airlines, Deer Jet business aviation division when it took the first aircraft to be managed in China under its wing. It was Raytheon Premier 1 B-8018 that was owned by Hangzhou Daoyuan Group.

The next important milestone came in time for the 2008 Olympic Games, which was held in Beijing that year. Deer Jet built a new FBO at the airport to handle all the extra business jet flights that year. Unfortunately, due to current Chinese government rules, only one FBO is allowed to operate per airport in China. Deer Jet still operates the FBO, however, aircraft have to be towed from the Deer Jet facility to the CJET facility before they can be used.

Deer Jet now operates the largest FBO network in China, with facilities in eight key Chinese cities, including Shenzhen, Hangzhou and Xi’an.

Towards the end of the CBAG Top 10 list are events that are all shaping the future development of the market in the country.

Two of the biggest hurdles to growth have traditionally been a lack of infrastructure to support business aviation in the country, as well as the Chinese Air Force retaining tight control over the county’s airspace.

Whilst there is infrastructure in the largest cities, there is a distinct lack of the necessary facilities to support business aviation operations in smaller cities. China has one of the most developed domestic airline networks in the world, with multiple airlines running multiple daily services between top tier cities. While Beijing to Shanghai remains as the top city pairs linked by business jets, until we see facilities in smaller tier 2 and tier 3 cities, the fear is that business aviation will not grow within the country.

The country’s airspace has also been a major barrier to growth. Large swathes of China’s airspace are still controlled by the military, making direct routings between cities almost impossible. China’s grip on its airspace affects all types of aircraft operations in the country, but it’s the airspace below 1,000 meters that has had the biggest effect on business and general aviation development, with many operators complaining that they aren’t able to compete effectively due to the heavy restrictions that they face.

The publishing in 2010 of the government’s ’Opinions on Deepening the Reform of China’s Low-altitude Airspace Management’ was the beginning of airspace issues being addressed, and helped promote the development not only of business and general aviation in the country, but also its aviation manufacturing sector as well.

This was followed in 2016 with the ‘Guidance on Promoting the Development of General Aviation’ document that promoted the construction of build 500 general airports in prefecture-level cities before end of 2020.

But perhaps one of the most important developments in recent years came in 2017 when China released its 13th Five-Year Plan.

China’s Five-Year Plans have been released every five years since 1953. They are designed as a focal point for the next five-year period and put forward national agendas that are focussed on social and economic development.

The 13th Five-Year Plan, released in 2017 is seen as a key moment in the development of business aviation in China as it explicitly mentions developing general aviation in the country.
Although much of the plan focusses on safety, it also proposed that there should be 500 general aviation airports in operation by the end of 2020.

The Chinese government is currently researching the themes for its new Five Year Plan, which is due to be approved and published by 2021.


Read the full list of 10 key moments that have shaped Chinese business aviation below.

1) 1995 – A Learjet 55 becomes the first civilian business jet to be delivered into China
2) 1997 – Broad Air Group takes delivery of a Cessna CitationJet – the first privately owned business jet in China
3) 1999 – Asian Business Aviation Association (AsBAA) is formed
4) 2005 – The first Asian Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (ABACE) is held in Shanghai
5) 2005 – Deer Jet signs the first management contract – A Raytheon Premier 1 for Hangzhou Daoyuan Group
6) 2008 – Deer Jet opens Beijing FBO
7) 2010 – Chinese government publishes “Opinions on Deepening the Reform of China’s Low-altitude Airspace Management”
8) 2016 – China’s State Council released “Guidance on Promoting the Development of General Aviation” in 2016 aiming to build 500 general airports in prefecture-level cities before end of 2020.
9) 2017 – Fee’s for registering aircraft are abolished, as is the need to apply to the government before acquiring aircraft
10) 2017 – China’s 13th Five Year Plan is published and aims to promote general aviation in the country

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