ABACE - Asian Business Aviation Conference & Exhibition

 - March 7, 2007, 11:19 AM

The one unmistakable message that came out of this year’s Asian Business Aviation Conference and Exhibition (ABACE) is that business aviation in Asia is no longer merely a talking point. While the region still faces challenges, there is progress on every front and aircraft are moving passengers throughout the region in unprecedented numbers. Many who have taken a wait-and-see attitude for years aren’t waiting any longer, confidence that was reflected on the exhibit floor and static display of this year’s event, held in Hong Kong last month.

Ed Bolen, president and CEO of NBAA, told AIN that attendance–2,300–was about the same as at last year’s show, but the number of exhibitors jumped from 35 to 54, with just about all the OEMs represented this year.

Boeing Business Jets, Bombardier, Cessna, Hawker Beechcraft, Dassault Falcon Jet, Airbus, Embraer, Eclipse and Cirrus were there in force. All also had static display aircraft, as did Gulfstream, which focused its assets on an impressive static display.

Programs offered at ABACE included seminars such as “The nature of business aviation in the U.S.” by Nancy Graham of the FAA’s Asia Office, “Explanation of the differences among charter, fractional and ownership” by Judith Moreton, managing director of Bombardier’s Skyjet International, and several other similarly basic lectures. Without a doubt, these excellent primers are necessary to help those in the region understand the various facets of business aviation.

The Asian Business Aviation Association (AsBAA) held its annual general meeting during ABACE and used that time to define the region, clarify goals, handle business and hold an election. AsBAA chairman Jason Liao, Raytheon’s regional sales director for North Asia, said the organization has grown to 33 member companies, with six new members signing up since the last meeting. Chuck Woods, CEO of Jet Asia in Macau, will take over the chairman responsibilities. For the first time the seven-member board is operator dominant. It is now composed of four operators and three non-operator companies, a shift the organization sees as desirable.

Although access continues to be an issue throughout Asia, there has been considerable improvement on this front in the past few years. The Hong Kong Business Aviation Center (HKBAC) is an example of a modern western FBO offering traditional services. It has a dedicated terminal building with customer lounge, accommodations for customs, immigration and quarantine and a hangar capable of storing up to half a dozen business aircraft. The facility also offers fuel, ground handling, flight planning and line maintenance through its tenant, Metrojet. Seven Gulfstreams are based at the facility, which is also home to Jet Aviation Business Jets.

With 18 airports, Taiwan has more airports per square mile than many other countries in the region. Many of its domestic airports are under-utilized and changes in the law are anticipated in the near future to allow general aviation. One such airport, Taipei’s Sungshan Airport, is in the geographic center of the city close to the business center. There are currently several business jets based in Taiwan.

Direct flight between Taiwan and China is now possible for special chartered commercial flights during certain holidays, as well as for emergency, medical and humanitarian flights and special cargo air freight. There is a strong move toward relaxing the restrictions further.

According to Vutichai Singhamany, director of flight standards for the Thai Department of Civil Aviation, there are currently 21 aircraft operating certificate (AOC) holders in Thailand, including scheduled, non-scheduled, charter operators and business jets. Six business aircraft and four civilian helicopters are currently registered in Thailand.

While there are growing numbers of privately owned aircraft in Asia, the prime movers are still charter operators. Chuck Woods, the new chairman of AsBAA, is also CEO of Jet Asia, a Macau aircraft management and charter operator. Woods manages a Global Express and two Challengers for Stanley Ho, chairman and principal of STDM, a major hospitality, casino and transportation company. He also manages a Legacy for Macau Landmark, another Macau casino. The aircraft are registered in the U.S.

Woods said that while there are still some major hurdles for operators to overcome, things have improved significantly and the demand for business jet charter definitely exceeds supply. “If we’re going into China these days it’s much easier than it used to be. The permits can be had in a day, whereas when I got here five-and-a-half years ago permits were taking four or five days and sometimes as long as 12 days,” he said.

“Infrastructure development has begun. FBOs are being developed in places such as Beijing, Singapore and Shanghai. It’s always been considered a chicken-and-egg kind of thing, but today when you look at the number of orders on the OEMs’ books, and you see a lot of aircraft moving into the region, I think the case for development has been made. What we won’t see for some time is the far-reaching infrastructure commitments we’re used to in the west.”

While there is already a handful of management/charter operators throughout Asia, more are moving in now that demand for private aircraft travel exceeds capacity. Hunt & Palmer, the UK-based operator, announced at ABACE it has established a regional headquarters in Hong Kong, and TAG Aviation announced TAG Aviation Australia, an aircraft management and charter operation.

The key to success in Asia continues to be the development of relationships between Western and Asian operators. Universal Weather & Aviation and Avjet have inked a deal to operate in Haneda, Japan. The agreement calls for Universal Aviation in Japan to provide hangarage and ground services for Avjet charter flights at Universal Aviation’s Haneda facility in support of Avjet’s new G550.

One of the shining examples of joint ventures is between BAA Jet Management, a Hong Kong company that has operational bases in Shenzhen and Beijing, and Chicago-based Priester Aviation.

BAA provides aircraft charter services, management, international handling and aircraft acquisition and sales. The company is currently managing three Gulfstream G200s and a GV, with contracts pending for five more aircraft. However, BAA CEO Jay Shaw has his sights set on far more than a charter operation.

Shaw has also entered into a joint venture with Shenzhen Airlines called Asia United Business Aviation, which, in addition to corporate jet aircraft management and aircraft charter services, will move into the development of aircraft maintenance and FBOs in China.

Shenzhen Airlines will provide the joint-venture partnership with new airport facilities and aircraft maintenance hubs in Shenzhen and Beijing. BAA will provide professional services in corporate jet aircraft management and related areas.

Western OEMs Look East
The best barometer in the region is OEM activity. Gulfstream, with its long history of commitment to Asia, will see a pre-owned GIV go to DeerJet, a subsidiary of China’s Hainan Airlines.

According to a Gulfstream spokesman, the number of Gulfstreams operating in the Asia-Pacific region has increased by 268 percent since 2001. The largest jump was posted by the company’s ultra-long-range models, the G550 and its predecessor, the GV, with sales increasing six-fold since 2001. Currently, 59 Gulfstreams are operating in the region.

Bombardier Aerospace also has a strong presence in the Asia-Pacific region, with 107 business jets currently based there.

David Dixon, regional v-p for the Asia-Pacific region, said the company is also developing partnerships in the region with such companies as Mitsubishi Heavy Industries in Japan and Aerospace Industrial Development Corp. in Taiwan to engineer and build new jets.

Embraer had a Legacy 600 on display for the first time in Asia at ABACE. Of the 96 aircraft currently in service in 19 countries, nine are in the Asia-Pacific region.
Gerry Goguen, senior v-p for customer service for Dassault Falcon Jet, said the company is ramping up its fleet support in the region. It currently has spares and parts in Asia worth approximately $500,000 and expects that to increase to $2 million by this summer.

There are currently two authorized service centers (ASC) located in the Asia-Pacific region: Singapore and Australia. Dassault is set to position an additional $1.5 million in Falcon spares in Singapore. Currently under evaluation are several ASC options for mainland China.

“There’s been a brisk market for business jets in Asia over the past couple of years, particularly in Hong Kong and Malaysia. Mainland China has been slower to mature but we’ve been successful with the sale of a Falcon 900DX, scheduled to enter service later this year,” said John Rosanvallon, president and CEO of Dassault Falcon Jet.

Dassault also recently delivered the first Falcon registered in the People’s Republic of China–a pre-owned Falcon 2000 was delivered to CITIC, which will operate the aircraft as it awaits delivery of a new Falcon 900DX at the end of the year.

The big-ticket winner in the region is Airbus. Richard Gaona, v-p sales executive and private aviation, said Asian sales of the Airbus ACJ line run into double-digit figures. “We now have 14 Airbus aircraft in VIP/corporate configuration in Asia; four placed in the last year.”