In the mid-1980s, more than three decades after Mao Zedong's communist revolution, David Dixon was one of the first capitalists allowed by a wary Beijing to fly over China in a business jet – with an escort.
Three decades later, China has embraced business aviation and is home to Asia's largest business-jet fleet. After an extended period of rapid growth, it is experiencing growing pains that should be temporary, provided it can further relax its heavy control of its skies and airports.
Data from the consultancy Asian Sky Group's 2015 Asia Pacific Fleet Report shows that China, Hong Kong and Macau's combined fleet saw a net addition of 26 jets last year, an increase of 6.2 percent, but just under half the net additions of 2014. Despite the end of 20-percent annual growth, many in the industry are expecting strong, steady growth for years.
"I think we're definitely seeing an uptick from a year ago," said Jason Liao, chairman and CEO of China Business Aviation Group. "I'm very positive. I think we'll see an average of 10 percent, sustainable long-term growth."
China's shift from being a global investment destination to becoming a global investor is also changing the market.
"China's commercial interests are spreading all over, to Africa, to South America, regions which are not necessarily their traditional markets," Mr. Dixon said. "When they go looking for resources, they're usually in remote areas, so access becomes crucial. How do you get from Beijing to Angola easily and when you want to? The answer is business aviation."
"Geographic positioning of the Asia Pacific region and distances between major cities necessitates the need for long-range aircraft," said Khader Mattar, Bombardier's vice president of sales for the Asia Pacific region and China. "We expect the Chinese market to be one of the four most active markets and to generate the most deliveries over the next 10 years."
China's business aviation market should benefit from support from Beijing, which has mentioned general aviation in the past two five-year plans.
"General aviation is becoming one of the main directions in China's national policy," said Fang Xinyu, vice president of Deer Jet, China's largest charter provider, "the government is encouraging more investment in this industry."
The market is maturing but has far to go, he said. "We are still short of pilots, mechanics and even professional marketers."