Jet set ready for take-off

Super-rich keen to get ultimate status symbol

Thailand's super-rich are playing catch-up with their counterparts abroad in owning a private jet, regarded as the ultimate status symbol.

On the Don Mueang tarmac is Mjets’ Cessna Citation CJ3, which is used by Minor Group tycoon Bill Heinecke and for chartering. More affluent people are eager to have their own private jets. BOONSONG KOSITCHOTETHANA

Taking possession of executive jets is becoming fashionable with very well-heeled individuals and families seeking to fly their own aircraft both for business and pleasure.

"It's becoming trendy and more visible now among Thailand's super-rich to have a status symbol of luxurious private jets," said Jaiyavat Navaraj, executive chairman of Mjets, Thailand's largest largest private jet charter service provider.

He said several affluent Thais seem to be in the market for buying pre-owned private jets, though any transactions are normally kept away from the public's eyes.

What they normally do is make an extra buck along the way by offering their unused aircraft capacity for charters through executive jet management companies, he said.

The family of veteran politician Suwat Liptapanlop purchased a five-year-old Cessna 550 Citation Bravo jet for a reported price tag of US$6 million from a Bulgarian bank.

The luxurious seven-seat jet is used by the family and to complement the family's hospitality business _ the Continental Hua Hin Resort, a five-star hotel now in its third year of operation.

The family has created Jaras Aviation to oversee the charter business rendered by the jet and a Cessna Grand Caravan, a single-engine propeller aircraft that the family has had for some time.

There may be "a couple" of private jets owned by wealthy Thai individuals and families entering the skies this year, Mr Jaiyavat told the Bangkok Post.

An industry estimate put the current number of private jets registered in Thailand at 16, with Mjets having the single largest fleet of four jets including the ultra-long range Gulfstream V.

Among those super-rich regularly using their own executive jets are Dhanin Chearavanont of CP Group, the Red Bull billionaire Yoovidhya family, Minor Group tycoon Bill Heinecke and Anutin Charnvirakul, the businessman-turned-politician and heir of the Sino-Thai Engineering and Construction empire.

Mr Heinecke and Mr Anutin have set up chartering firms to create added value for their jet ownership.

Mr Heinecke co-owns Mjets, while Mr Anutin has AC Aviation, which has two BeechJet 400As in service.

The sort of wealthy people who own private jets are mostly those who are in love with top-tier limousines, supercars and sports cars, Mr Jaiyavat said.

For instance, Mr Dhanin is shuttled around the city in his chauffeur-driven black Maybach Limousine, one of the few in Thailand, while Mr Heinecke sits in the back of his Bentley.

Mr Jaiyavat said private jet ownership is still in the embryo stage here compared with other markets in the region such as Hong Kong, Singapore and Indonesia.

Asia is seen as a fast-growing market for private jets as the region boasts the world's second-largest concentration of millionaires after the United States.

A study by Merrill Lynch Global Wealth Management and Capgemini estimated that the number of Asian millionaires, defined as those with investable assets of at least US$30 million, soared to 23,000 in 2010.

US business magazine Forbes estimates China alone has 150 billionaires.

About the author

Writer: Boonsong Kositchotethana
Position: Deputy Editor Business