April 14, 2019 / 11:04 PM / 2 months ago

Corporate jetmakers court Chinese elite for sales despite slowing economy

MONTREAL/SINGAPORE/SHANGHAI, April 14 (Reuters) - Gulfstream Aerospace and Bombardier are trotting out their longest-range business jets at an Asian air show this week, as they compete for orders from China's growing elite, despite the country's slowing economy.

The Asian Business Aviation Conference & Exhibition, (ABACE) opens Tuesday in Shanghai under a cloud of economic uncertainty, amid slowing Chinese growth, the U.S.-China trade dispute, and Beijing's crackdown on debt risks that has led funding to dry up in certain industries, brokers said.

"The biggest factor that impacted the business jet market was pessimism and uncertainty which stalled purchase intentions or forced those marginal owners to reconsider keeping their business jets," said Jeffrey Lowe, managing director of Hong Kong-based Asian Sky Group.

Still, Canada's Bombardier sees its new $73 million Global 7500 business jet making inroads in Greater China against market leader Gulfstream's $65 million-plus G650 family.

The plane and train maker said on Sunday it secured firm orders for four Global 7500 planes that were converted from options taken by Hong Kong-based business jet management company HK Bellawings in 2018.

Greater China's number of billionaires has been growing yearly by 10 percent over the past three years, and the Global 7500's long range will help to "seize market share and to withstand any economic uncertainty in the region," said Bombardier Business Aircraft President David Coleal by email.

Both Gulfstream's 650ER and the Global 7500 connect far-flung cities like New York and Tokyo, an allure for elite Asian buyers who want to fly non-stop to Western hubs.

“You don’t need a G7500 to fly three or four hours. But when you do need (longer) range you can use this jet,” said Thomas Flohr, founder and chairman of Vista Global and a Global 7500 customer.

Gulfstream, a division of General Dynamics, which brought its large-cabin G500 jet into service last year, delivered 68 new corporate aircraft between 2015 and 2018 in the region, more than double the 32 planes delivered by its Canadian competitor, according to Asian Sky.

Gulfstream President Mark Burns said by email the U.S. company is seeing more optimism in the region and is "starting to see more activity as trade talks appear to be progressing and becoming more specific."

The Asia Pacific region, nevertheless, accounted for only about 8 percent of the 3,478 business jets delivered globally over the last five years, compared with 2,122 jets delivered to North America, according to Cirium Fleets Analyzer data.

And the number of Chinese-owned second-hand business jets sold outside the country rose to 20 in 2018, compared with an annual average of 10 from 2014 to 2017, according to the Cirium data.

Jackie Wu, president of JetSolution Aviation Group, said weaker business jet sales have prompted her Hong Kong company to launch its first charter service using the supermidsized Embraer Legacy 600.

"We are an industry that very much reflects the health of an economy, or the world economy," said Jetcraft Asia president David Dixon, adding he nevertheless sees greater demand from smaller Asian countries like Indonesia and Malaysia.

Reporting By Allison Lampert in Montreal, Brenda Goh in Shanghai and Jamie Freed in Singapore; Additional reporting by Stella Qiu in Beijing; Editing by Chris Reese

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