Private jet makers upbeat on S-E Asia amid China slowdown

The demand for private jets in Asia may be hit this year with an economic slowdown expected in China, a major purchaser, but manufacturers are still upbeat about the regional business.

There are many queries from buyers in South-east Asia and new models from makers like Bombardier, Dassault Falcon and Gulfstream will keep interest in the market going, said company executives during the Singapore Airshow 2016.

Even if orders slow, firms such as Bombardier said they are committed to investing in service facilities in Asia - seen as a growing market.

Singapore's position as a regional business hub, in particular, makes it an ideal stopover location where owners can have their jets serviced while they work, said Mr Khader Mattar, Bombardier vice-president of sales for the Middle East and Africa, Asia-Pacific and China.

The firm's 100,000 sq ft service centre in Seletar Airport has doubled its staff strength to 90 since it opened in February 2014, he said.

Bombardier has about 290 business jets in Asia, accounting for about 30 per cent of the region's market share, he added. These planes are owned by individuals, companies and charter operators.

Embraer China president Guan Dongyuan is upbeat as he feels Chinese buyers are becoming more "professional" and are not just opting for the priciest planes with the longest ranges. He thinks they will still buy, even with tighter purses.

He admits that demand from China has fallen in the past few years, and will remain steady in the next few years before picking up again.

Gulfstream senior vice-president of sales and marketing, Mr Scott Neal, also said at a press conference on Tuesday: "We take a long-term view in all the markets that we compete (in), but especially with China. We have seen some of the frenetic pace in that market slow."

In the Asia-Pacific, Gulfstream has seen its fleet double from 142 jets in 2010 to 289 last year. Mr Roger Sperry, division vice-president (international sales/Asia), said this trend should go on despite the China situation as its sales were spread evenly throughout the region.

The Chinese market is important for private jet makers, with increasing affluence there driving sales in the region. In Embraer's case, its 31 private jets in China account for about 35 per cent of its total executive jet fleet in the Asia-Pacific.

Embraer China president Guan Dongyuan is upbeat as he feels Chinese buyers are becoming more "professional" and are not just opting for the priciest planes with the longest ranges. He thinks they will still buy, even with tighter purses.

Meanwhile, Dassault Falcon senior vice-president of international sales Jean-Michel Jacob sees other South-east Asian countries, including Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, picking up the slack left by China. "We have a lot of inquiries and deals in process... about twice as much activity as we had two years ago," he told The Straits Times.

Upcoming models like the Falcon 8X, set to perform a test flight from Singapore to London next month, will keep interest up, he added.

Business jets are also increasingly seen not as luxury items, but as offices in the sky to raise productivity, further justifying their purchase.

Mr David Dixon, president of international private aircraft broker Jetcraft Asia, said: "Say you are in Papau, and you've seen your factory, and you now need to go to Changsha in China.

"You try doing that on the commercial airlines... it will take you days, and maybe you have to go on dubious airlines, and not at the time of the day you want."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 20, 2016, with the headline 'Private jet makers upbeat on S-E Asia amid China slowdown'. Print Edition | Subscribe