On the runway to success
Updated: 2012-02-25 08:30
By Xie Yu (China Daily)
A private jet landing at Shanghai Hongqiao International Airport. Industry insiders say that business people are becoming increasingly keen on traveling on private jets to avoid delays as airports become more crowded. [Niu Yixin / for China Daily]
SHANGHAI - Thirty years ago, when Jane McBride first got behind the controls of her father's airplane, she felt hardly any fear about the daunting task before her.
"I knew right away that I loved flying, so I got my private pilot's license soon after - and the passion for aviation has persisted till now," said McBride, the chief executive of the US-based company, Private Jet Journeys. Though McBride rarely pilots a plane these days, she keeps her passion for flying afloat by planning and designing exclusive private jet charter packages for the wealthy.
Over the years, McBride has played host to royalty and many celebrities, such as basketball legend Michael Jordan, pop star Michael Jackson, and Bill Clinton, at that time a US presidential hopeful. She says her team "fully understands the security and discretion that the VIPs expect", and endeavors to make sure that everything is perfect, from handling and documentation on the ground, to catering and in-flight entertainment.
Despite the stiff price tag for such services, McBride does not seem to be worried about gaining new clients. With rich Chinese snapping up luxury goods in a big way and observers predicting that the country will soon become the biggest market for high-end goods, McBride is now focusing her time and efforts on making inroads into the Chinese market.
According to a survey conducted by Hurun Research Institute last year, nearly 90 percent of millionaires in China traveled overseas in 2010. The main purpose was sightseeing or shopping. Eighty percent chose not to travel with a tour group, while more than 60 percent flew business class.
"We have already talked to a handful of very, very successful Chinese people, and we are really excited that they seem receptive to our concepts," McBride said.
A Chinese businessman recently placed an order and will start a tour combining business with pleasure and covering three different destinations in the United States in the next few weeks.
"The client wants to visit some manufacturers in the US, play golf and also look for some schools for his children," McBride said, adding that the total cost of the package is around $400,000.
"All I know is that he is a very successful and famous businessman in China. I cannot, however, reveal his name," she said.
The US company is in discussions with six other prospective clients in China and may soon conduct a trip for more than 75 Chinese golf enthusiasts. There have also been inquiries from Chinese people who are interested in sending their children to private schools in the US. One client wanted to buy a private jet tour package for his wife for her 40th birthday. There was also someone who was interested in a surprise on St Valentine's Day, said McBride.
"It is perfect for secret business discussions, romance or golf. We will know in advance what the client eats, drinks and which movies they watch. We will also load your iPad with your favorite goodies to ensure your privacy and exclusivity," McBride said.
Actually, for the right price, almost everything is possible.
Apart from the flying services, the company can also set up a client's ground schedule, with the help of its network of luxury and unique suppliers. This includes finding private villas and islands, making arrangements to meet celebrities or playing golf in an exclusive club, and shopping.
"I just learned that some Chinese clients are keen to invest in Hollywood, and that is exactly what we are good at - arranging flights and even meetings with Hollywood stars and directors," McBride said.
The New York Times reported that by the end of April, there were 126 registered jets in China, including Hong Kong and Macao. A recent report released by Hurun Research Institute showed that one out of six people who own assets of more than 1 billion yuan ($158.6 million) in China wants to buy their private jets.
Besides providing services to these private jets owners, McBride believes there is great potential to turn people who are considering buying jets into their clients.
"Our services will be very helpful to these people, as you can try different types of jets, both light and heavy, before buying," she said.
Because of China's regulations on low-altitude flights, it is difficult to fly in the country, which is why most of the company's business is outbound.
But the future seems promising.
China's air traffic-control authorities earlier indicated that the nation would consider relaxing a ban on the use of low-altitude airspace this year on a trial basis. In January, airspace below 1,000 meters in Northeast, Central and South China, as well as six pilot cities, was opened to general aviation flights.
"When the airspace opens up more, we will have more opportunities to offer trips inside China," she said. The company has been considering designing trips within the country as well.
As airports become increasingly crowded and congested, people are keen to fly on private jets instead of waiting several hours with their luggage and laptops at the airport, McBride said. The use of private jets expedites these needs.
"You can have all the money in the world, but you cannot make more time. Imagine you are the richest person in the world, but have to sit around and wait at the airport for five hours, when you could make a new deal, or just see your family," McBride said.