Asian Business Aviation Association Is Making Progress Fixing the Region’s Problems

 - March 27, 2012, 12:35 AM
Board members of the Asian Business Aviation Association (left to right): Lee Li, Embraer’s vice president for China sales; Jean-Noel Robert, Airbus’ executive and private aviation sales director for Greater China, Japan and Korea; and David Dixon.

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It has been a year since the Asian Business Aviation Association (AsBAA) elected a new board and revamped its strategic approach to supporting business aviation development in the region. Jean-Noel Robert, Airbus’ executive and private aviation area sales director for Greater China, Japan and Korea, became chairman, while Embraer Executive Aircraft vice president for sales in China Lee Li and Bombardier Business Aircraft’s then Asia Pacific regional vice president for business aircraft David Dixon were appointed vice chairmen. The other two members of the executive committee are Hawker Pacific Shanghai’s business development director Helena Lang and Thailand-based OrientSKYs’ Ekavaj Amornvivat.

Over the year the group has achieved several of the goals it outlined back in March 2011. “We have seen tangible results since we started,” Robert told AIN. “We have launched three operator committees and managed to get more space at Hong Kong International Airport for our operators.”

Indeed, AsBAA’s Hong Kong operator committee has met six times to date and comprises all the main players in Hong Kong. Twelve out of the 14 Chinese holders of aircraft operator certificates are members of the Mainland China operator committee, and an auditor from the International Business Aviation Council (IBAC) attended the first meeting in Beijing last December.

The Singapore Airshow in February saw the inaugural gathering of the Southeast Asia committee. This final group comprises companies from Singapore, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and Indonesia. Robert added that AsBAA is working closely with its counterpart in Japan, the Japanese Business Aviation Association (JBAA).

Improving Safety

According to the AsBAA chairman, a key part of the association’s remit is to improve safety across the region. “We are working very closely with IBAC to encourage members to apply for the International Standard for Business Aircraft Operations [IS-BAO] standard.”

The Southeast Asia committee appears to be struggling to create a harmonious set of guidelines and rules that work for business aviation throughout the vast area that it covers. Definitions of the region vary, but there are definitely 11 countries (Brunei, Cambodia, East Timor, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam) and two territories (the Christmas and Cook Islands) within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). There are also strong links with Japan, as well as Hong Kong and Macau–both special administrative regions of China–as well as Australia and New Zealand.

Robert pointed out that in addition to problems with infrastructure in the region, as well as skills shortages and lack of a coherent pan-regional air traffic control policy, there is simply not enough capacity to cater to the market at the moment. “One thing that is hindering the development of a business aviation sector here is a lack of aircraft,” he commented. “Owners are high-net-worth individuals who like to keep themselves to themselves.” AsBAA believes that until an operator is prepared to take a risk and import aircraft that are strictly for charter the situation will remain static.

“People get fed up with constantly inquiring and finding out that there are no aircraft available,” claimed Robert. “It is hampering the industry.” This leads to a lack of demand and then there is a vicious cycle of a great deal of interest in managed aircraft, but a crippled charter market.China is the Promised Land for most entrants to Asia, although there also is strong activity in Hong Kong, Japan, Indonesia and Singapore, with aviation hubs in Malaysia and the Philippines.

The actual installed fleet in China on the B-register is around the 170 mark, with several new deliveries slated for the next 12 months. All the major manufacturers are reporting sales across the region, so China is not the only honey pot.

Large Untapped Market

There is a large untapped potential market not only for aircraft, but also for related services–maintenance, training, pilots and the like. Reportedly, there is also a small illegal charter sector, but Robert said this is “nothing like” the problem experienced in the Middle East and other regions.

One real problem, however, is sourcing companies to manage and support the jets. There are reports of regional management firms turning down aircraft, since they do not believe they can support them effectively. It is also difficult to recruit Western pilots and technicians to live and work in the region.

Embraer’s Lee Li insisted that the key to developing Asia’s potential is to educate the market. “People need to know the benefits that business aviation can bring,” he said.

All this means that AsBAA does have a huge task on its hands. For now the directors have concentrated on reorganizing the constitution and creating committees one at a time.

The Hong Kong operators’ committee plans to take aggressive actions on short-term issues, such as various crew visa limitations. It has had some success already with alleviation of business jet parking limitations at Hong Kong International Airport. It will also work on medium- and long-term issues, such as foreign pilot license validations or proposition of regulatory reforms. “We need operators to voice their needs and tell us what they want us to do,” said Robert.

The board also wants to cooperate with its regional counterparts the JBAA. Japan had a very tough time last year, but it is recovering from the devastating impact of the tsunami. JBAA director Kazuyuki Tamura said that the Japan Civil Aviation Bureau is now working on relaxing some of the stricter regulations that hinder the development of private aviation, such as ease of registration in Japan, which should encourage development of charter operations.

AsBAA also has links with the Australian Business Aviation Association (ABAA), a nonprofit organization formed to act as a collective voice for the business aviation community in Australia, the IBAC, the U.S. National Business Aviation Association and the European Business Aviation Association. NBAA is the organizer of this week’s ABACE show in Shanghai.

The good news is that there is definite movement in the region toward developing a business aviation culture. Robert is bullish about the future. “We are tackling our top priorities first, one by one, but there is a strong market here and we intend to step up,” he concluded.

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