Not surprisingly, then, the U.S. company and its partners are investing in keeping Chinese customers happy, opening a service center at Beijing in November and building up stores of spare parts worth $56 million at that facility and in Hong Kong and Singapore. A training center with a simulator for the Gulfstream G450 and G550 opened in Hong Kong in February. Like other manufacturers, Gulfstream is assigning staff to show Chinese users how best to exploit their aircraft.
The industry finance expert credits Gulfstream with cleverly reinforcing its brand in China around 10 years ago by selling a single aircraft cheaply to Metrojet. The manufacturer knew that the Hong Kong management company would use the aircraft for charters, so the first business-jet flight for many mainland Chinese would be on a Gulfstream.
Not all the market advantages are with Gulfstream. Bombardier's Challenger 800 and 850, like other business aircraft adapted from airliners, offer a lot of cabin space for their price. For a buyer seeking prestige, the performance of a powerful, long-range aircraft with a smaller cabin is not so valuable. Horner believes that in this respect the Chinese market is changing, however. Customers increasingly appreciate the performance of dedicated business jet designs, such as the Bombardier Global series, he says.
In another development in the Chinese business aviation market, HNA Group aircraft operating company Deer Jet has begun offering China's first fractional ownership service, partly in response to requests from users who have found they were getting little use of their airplanes.
In its first stage, the company is offering shared ownership of G450s, G550s and Dassault 7Xs, beginning with one of each type, says Wu Wen-ding, deputy general manager of Deer Jet's aircraft asset management department. For the second stage, the offerings will be Bombardier Global 6000s and 5000s, Challenger 605s and Gulfstream G280s.
While many Chinese customers will find fractional ownership unattractive because it is not as prestigious as owning a complete aircraft, Wu says some potential customers would not care.