Restrictions choke bizav ops at Singapore Seletar

 - May 15, 2008, 6:13 AM

Civil operations at Singapore Seletar Airport could be severely curtailed and business jet operations forced away altogether if several proposed initiatives are implemented by the local authorities. Most pressing is the imposition on the first of this month of Stage 3 noise restrictions, with no waivers for noncompliant aircraft, but other plans could limit operations even more.

Seletar is a designated military airport located west of Changi International Airport on the northern side of the island. The northern end of Seletar’s single north-south runway is bordered by the Straits of Johor and buildings hem in its southern end. Although open 24 hr a day, the airport is VFR only. This, however, is not a serious restriction, Geoffrey Hopkins, v-p/general manager of Jet Aviation Singapore, told AIN, as only about three or four Seletar-bound business jets a year must divert to Changi because of weather.

Jet Aviation Singapore opened its FBO and maintenance facility at Seletar Airport in 1995, but was hit hard the next year by the Asian economic recession, Heinz Kohli, Jet Aviation president and COO for Europe/Middle and Far East, explained. Hopkins said 15 business jets left the region, about 70 percent of the facility’s business. Operations have recovered enough to be profitable, said Kohli, although not back to the pre-1997 levels. The company would like to remain at Seletar, but may be forced to move if the following plans are implemented as proposed.

“First, the authorities plan to allow only Stage 3-approved airplanes into Seletar starting this month,” said Hopkins. “We’ve asked for a dispensation for non-Stage 3-approved business jets to fly to our facility for maintenance purposes only, but have not received it. Obviously, this would have a serious effect on our maintenance business.”

Second, to comply with ICAO requirements for runway overruns, the authorities are proposing reducing the length of Seletar’s runway by 90 meters (295 ft). This would further restrict business jet operations to the field, said Hopkins. He gave the example of a Citation VII operator who told him he would not be able to carry any passengers from Seletar from the shortened runway. Larger airplanes would be similarly restricted.

“We would actually like the runway lengthened by 500 meters [1,640 ft],” Hopkins said, “but the only way to do this would be to extend it into the Straits of Johor, which would require coordination with and approval by the authorities in Malaysia as well.”

The third issue arose after September 11. “To increase security, the military authorities controlling the airfield want to erect a fence around the runway that would separate the runway from all the facilities on the field,” Hopkins explained. “The fence would need gates to provide access to the runway. This would create problems for us and others [AT Aerospace, Hawker Pacific and Fokker Services] on the field because the authorities don’t plan to man the gates continuously. When we’re doing maintenance on an airplane, we may need to go on the runway three or four times a day for engine run-ups. Also, because we work on airplanes as large as the Boeing Business Jet, the gates would have to be very wide, at least 45 meters [148 ft].”

Finally, as if the above weren’t enough, the authorities are also considering restricting Seletar to daylight operations only.

During the Asian Aerospace 2002 airshow in Singapore in late February, Jet Aviation chairman and CEO Thomas Hirschmann, Kohli and Hopkins met with the Singapore Economic Development Board (EDB) to air their concerns about the long-term viability of Seletar for corporate operations. “Nothing positive came out of the meeting,” said Hopkins. “The EDB has assigned a task force to look into the future of Seletar and is soliciting input from operators, but we don’t know if the task force and the EDB will support the concept of developing Seletar as a business aviation hub.” No waivers of the Stage 3 noise restrictions were forthcoming.

“It could happen that after the third runway and terminal building at Changi are completed, we’ll be offered the opportunity to set up there,” Hopkins said. “But that’s going to be an expensive option for Jet Aviation, particularly if business jet operators decide to avoid Singapore airports altogether. They could decide, for example, to use Johor Bahru Airport in Malaysia, which has an international-class runway and is only about 30 kilometers [48 miles] from Singapore, and fly to Singapore by helicopter.”

During the airshow, Changi Airport opened a new business aviation center in the base of Terminal One, “but it is not being run like a normal FBO,” said Hopkins. The airport also charges a hefty S$1,000 ($571 U.S.) for each arrival and each departure and does not allow corporate airplanes to park overnight.

Jet Aviation wants to remain in Singapore, but restrictions and economic conditions may force it to pack up and leave. One alternative is Hong Kong, where Jet Aviation recently opened a facility to offer aircraft management services. There the company manages a Bombardier Global Express for a Chinese businessman who flies throughout China. For the time being, the ultra-long-range jet is supported by Jet Aviation Singapore’s facility at Seletar.