Among the aircraft manufacturers and charter providers appearing at ABACE, aviation service providers are also represented among the exhibitors. One that is returning for a second year is Castle & Cooke Aviation (Booth P318), which operates a string of fixed-base operations (FBOs) with locations on the U.S. West Coast and in Hawaii. “We see the China market as really high potential growth,” said Tony Marlow, general manager of the company’s facility at Honolulu International Airport. “Out here, in the middle of the ocean, we are a tech stop, as well as a customs clearance stop for flights going to the United States, so we saw [attending ABACE] as an opportunity to try to get in front of the market.”
To gauge the level of private aviation in China, Marlow attended the Shanghai International Business Aviation show in 2011. “We found that a lot of work still had to be done to develop the market, but is there was enough there that when the NBAA [the U.S. National Business Aviation Association] decided to do it in 2012, we didn’t want to miss the opportunity,” he said.
At last year’s show, Marlow found ample indications of the nascent market’s inexperience and, given the level of general aviation infrastructure in China today, that observation was hardly surprising. While the event was held at the Shanghai Hawker Pacific Business Aviation Center, one of the few dedicated FBOs in the country, only a handful of the show’s attendees actually entered the terminal or understood how its services differed from western-style FBOs. “I probably did more explaining to folks about what we do than really talking about providing a great fuel price and telling them that we have top-level service,” Marlow said. “It’s very much a developing market and it’s very much an opportunity to educate people about how things work.”
An added benefit of attending the last ABACE, according to Marlow, was exposing his facility to airline managers at the show. While not a key area of focus, the FBO also serves commercial jetliners on ferry flights delivering aircraft from the U.S. to Asian airlines.
While he found the 2012 show to be a success in terms of the amount of traffic to his booth, Marlow said that the post-show benefits manifested themselves in the form of a slight uptick in traffic from the region, which the company categorizes as a small part of its overall business. “Handling just those couple of flights really was significant,” he said. “Had we not been at the show, the crew might not have ever given us a look and might have used our competition down the ramp. We actually made direct sales to two new customers, one of which has been back several times.”
When it came time to renew for this year’s edition, that new business helped Marlow make the case to his superiors to reserve a booth as soon as registration opened. “The fact is, the business is still growing,” he said. “It’s not the sort of thing where all of a sudden we see 20 new flights a month coming from Asia, but we want to be in front of it and we want to be at the top of folks’ minds when they do.”
For Castle & Cooke Aviation, courting the Asian private aviation market fits well with its present structure. With international arrivals in the Los Angeles area limited to busy Los Angeles International Airport, flights can clear U.S. customs and immigration in Hawaii (typically without the passengers needing to leave the airplane) and then fly to one of the company’s other mainland locations at California’s Van Nuys Airport, or in Everett, Washington. According to Marlow, some Asian customers with long-range aircraft even clear customs and refuel at his facility for nonstop flights to Florida or New York, bypassing the West Coast altogether.
Castle & Cooke’s Honolulu FBO, which will celebrate its fifth anniversary next month, is one of four jet fuel providers on the airport. It is typically staffed 12 hours a day, seven days a week, but given a few hours’ advance notice before the possible arrival of any transoceanic flight, Marlow said that arriving guests will be well looked after. o