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Business

Business jets take flight in Asia

Thai business jet operator MJets has brought its expertise to Myanmar.

TOKYO/YANGON/GUANGZHOU, China -- As cross-border business grows more commonplace in China and Southeast Asia, executives are turning to the convenience offered by private business jets, and an increasing number of countries are building facilities to cater to them.

     Next to Yangon International Airport's aging domestic terminal is Myanmar's first dedicated business jet terminal. The facilities are fully equipped, boasting a shower space and sleeping rooms for naps. The terminal also has its own security gate, allowing preflight procedures to be wrapped up in just 15 minutes.

     The terminal is mainly used by executives at foreign companies in such sectors as communications, hotels and resource development. Also passing through are such figures as real estate mogul Serge Pun, named by Forbes as one of Myanmar's richest people. The facility is used only about 30 times a month, but its operator has expressed confidence that it can meet the needs of executives who have their schedules planned out to the minute.

     The terminal was built by a joint venture between a local company and MJets, which operates business jets in Thailand. MJets also runs a private jet terminal at Bangkok's Don Mueang International Airport. It owns five charter planes, including a Gulfstream GV with a capacity of 14 passengers, and offers support and maintenance for customers' private aircraft. It has 85 client companies.

     Buying a business jet costs hundreds of millions to billions of yen. But they offer many advantages for executives, stresses MJets Executive Chairman Jaiyavat Navaraj, including travel without being bound by flight times and the ability to hold discussions and meetings inside the plane. The company plans to build terminals in Cambodia, Vietnam and Indonesia as well.

     Business jets are a relatively unfamiliar sight in Japan, but they are viewed among executives as essentially flying taxis in the U.S., which has nearly 20,000 of them. Honeywell, a major U.S. maker of electronic components for planes, expects 9,450 business jets to be sold worldwide between 2014 and 2024, with the market reaching $280 billion. The Asian market is seen at around 1 trillion yen ($8.33 billion), with high growth potential.

     Hopes are especially high for China, a large country whose private-jet-owning upper class has grown sharply since the early 2000s. Business jets have become a status symbol for local executives, used by the likes of Jack Ma, executive chairman of e-commerce giant Alibaba Group, and Hui Ka Yan, chairman of Evergrande Real Estate Group.

     U.S.-based NetJets Business Aviation, which manages 700 planes around the world, received approval last September to operate business jets in China. The country has about 250 business jets now, but Eric Wong, a top executive at NetJets' Chinese arm, expects that figure to nearly quadruple to 900 by 2020.

     A round-trip charter flight between the hubs of Zhuhai, Guangdong Province, and Shanghai costs about 300,000 yuan ($48,000), including airport fees and aircraft parking fees. Wong expects the service to be used by wealthy clients with assets of at least 10 billion yen.

    Aircraft makers have also started working to tap the Asian market. U.S. manufacturer Gulfstream Aerospace has set up shop in Beijing and Hong Kong. Through September, it sold 90 planes in mainland China alone, and a total of more than 150 when such areas as Hong Kong and Macao are included. French peer Airbus also aims to expand sales in the region, while Honda Motor plans to launch this year a relatively affordable aircraft costing about $4.5 million.

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