Flight Support Experts Back Up Operators Across Asia
Operating conditions for business aircraft in China are improving, but are still complex enough that both Chinese and foreign operators largely depend on expert flight- planning and support companies. Among the exhibitors at this year’s ABACE show are several leading service providers who have been making significant investments in China and other parts of Asia to allow their clients to deliver to their passengers as much flexibility as possible.
UAS International Trip Support (Booth 2834) now has representatives in Beijing, Shanghai and Zhengzhou (in the northern province of Henan). This is part of a support network for clients across Asia that also includes representatives in Hong Kong, India, Sri Lanka and Bishek, the Kyrgyzstan capital. According to UAS co-owner and executive president Mohammed Husary, the Dubai-based company plans to have comprehensive operations centers in various Asian locations by the end of 2014. This is part of an expansion strategy that has seen the company establish new regional headquarters worldwide in locations such as Houston in the U.S. and Johannesburg, South Africa.
The main issues being addressed by UAS’s Chinese team are applications for overflight and landing permits, which are still subject to delays. “It requires technical expertise to get these permits in time and for this you need agents who understand the regulations and know how to handle the process from a Chinese perspective,” Husary told AIN, adding that the recent relaxation of military control of Chinese airspace has seen a limited improvement in the time taken to get permits.
“Overall [in Asia] the biggest [trip-support] challenges are in India and China because of the [large-scale] geography and airspace and because of the complex regulations there,” said Husary. “In countries like Myanmar, Vietnam and Cambodia it can be hard to reach the right people at short notice [to get permits approved]. We have been able to overcome all these hurdles because we have experience serving more than 10,000 flights per year. We have developed a good relationship with officials based on trust and professionalism. Some developing countries have been abused in the past so they want to work with someone trustworthy to be sure of getting fees paid on time. With customers, we believe in being completely transparent about what is happening [with their flight-support requests].”
World Fuel Services and its flight-support subsidiary Baseops have offices in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Singapore. The U.S.-based company recently appointed Fastransit Aviation Services Ltd. as its official agent in Mainland China, with offices in 19 cities and a staff of 40 people. This has significantly boosted Baseops’s ability to provide trip support and ground handling for operators at airports throughout China. Further afield in Asia Pacific region, the group also has offices in South Korea, Japan, India and Australia, as well as representatives in Russia and Kyrgyzstan to serve central Asia. Over the past 12 months, the company has doubled the size of its trip-support teams in response to significant growth in international flight activity.
According to Dion Xavier, World Fuel Service’s business aviation manager for the Asia Pacific region, securing landing slots remains one of the main operational challenges, especially for the main international gateways in Beijing and Shanghai. “The procedure is heavily regulated by the CAAC [Civil Aviation Administration of China] and rarely are revisions [to flight times] permitted, which, given the irregularity of business aircraft operations in general, can prove a challenge unless you are working with a team like Baseops, which utilizes our local expertise and network to overcome such obstacles,” he told AIN.
Baseops also arranges ground handling for clients at airports throughout China, ensuring that they are always served by multilingual staff, which eases the concerns of non-Chinese-speaking flight crew. “This is particularly important when operating to the more remote parts of China,” said Dion.
The company warns international clients not to assume that procedures and requirements that are commonplace in the West will also be in place for flights throughout Asia. “For example, providing a general declaration for crew entry will not suffice in parts of Asia as it would in the West, and visas are required by crew before entry into some countries,” advised Dion. Overflight permits can be another challenging process and Baseops always aims to have an alternative plan for a client in the event that they cannot be secured in a tight time frame.
“Infrastructure to support business aircraft operators can be delicate and lacking in parts of Asia, so it’s important to know the right people to work with on the ground to ensure not only the safe arrival of your aircraft, but its safe handling and parking as well,” added Dion. “We consider our flight-support services to be similar to those of a concierge, where the operators’ requirements and preferences are of utmost importance and a solution is tailored around them.”
Jetex established an office in Beijing in 2010, from which it sends representatives to help clients at any airport in China. The Dubai-based flight-support group now has 10 staff based in the Chinese capital and expects that number to double by the end of this year.
“Our Beijing office is one of the largest [of Jetex’s] regional offices and it offers us the ability to fan out and cover the entire mainland of China and the Far East,” a Jetex spokesperson told AIN. “Additionally, Jetex has local representatives permanently based throughout Asia based on the frequency of our customers’ visits and/or the challenges unique to some airports.” For instance, the company currently has representatives stationed at Manila in the Philippines and in Ashkhabad, the Turkmenistan capital.
Jetex identified the same key operational challenges in Asia as did other flight- support specialists, and pointed out that they are the result of a vicious cycle in which relatively low volume of business aviation traffic outside the West does not create enough impetus for improvements to be made. “Without a healthy number of business aircraft and aircraft movements there’s no business case to invest in adequate infrastructure, and the [inadequate] infrastructure does not support the growth of business and private aviation,” said the spokesperson. “Why would a regional airport in China invest in dedicated business aviation infrastructure for the odd business jet visit?”
Other key tasks include ensuring that international flight crews get all the key operational information they need, such a local Notams and communications from air traffic management officials. At the same time, arranging credit is vital, too, since payment terms for local fees and services provided during a trip can be far from straightforward.
Collectively, these challenges have created a strong business opportunity for Jetex and other specialists who are willing to focus on providing workable solutions in difficult circumstances. The flight-support firms present at ABACE this week all agree that there is no substitute for ensuring the availability of local expertise to support operators in Asia.