Business Aviation in Asia

 - February 27, 2009, 12:33 PM

“Last year was a great year for business aviation in Asia, especially the Greater China Region. I believe it was a record year of growth. We had more aircraft deliveries, more new operators started and more investment into business aviation infrastructure,” said Jason Liao, sales director for China at Bombardier Business Aircraft.

Two new FBOs opened in Beijing–Capital Jet Company (CJet), owned by Beijing Capital Airport; and Beijing Business Aviation Center, jointly owned by Jet Aviation and Deerjet. In addition, Hawker Pacific and the Shanghai Hongquiaso Airport Authority broke ground on a new FBO project in Shanghai.

Liao attributed the rapid growth to a strong economy for most of the year, increased awareness of the advantage of using business aircraft, and more government support for the business aviation industry, especially in China.

“The Civil Aviation Authority of China [CAAC] has been a strong supporter of general aviation development. There is currently a comprehensive study under way to lower aircraft import duties and user fees and also to open up more airspace,” Liao said.

Liao, who is also vice chairman of the Asian Business Aviation Association (AsBAA), did express concern about the cancellation of the 2009 Asian Business Aviation Conference and Exhibition (ABACE). “It was unfortunate that NBAA cancelled ABACE because many of us use it as a common meeting place with our clients,” he said. The February event is held annually in Hong Kong.

The cancellation of ABACE also scuttled the annual meeting of the AsBAA, which is usually held the day before ABACE opens. The organization is currently looking for an alternate location and time for the annual meeting.

In announcing the cancellation of ABACE, NBAA president and CEO Ed Bolen, said, “NBAA recognizes the importance of Asia to the future of business aviation and we will continue to work closely with our colleagues in the Asian Business Aviation Association to promote the growth of business aviation in that part of the world. But ABACE requires a huge commitment of resources–from our member companies, from exhibitors and from NBAA. And, at a time when our economy is moving into its second year of a recession, NBAA is not in a position to provide ABACE with the attention and resources required to make the show the success
it needs to be for our attendees and exhibitors. We regret the circumstances that have led to this year’s cancellation.”

Service Options

Robert Kraft, a freelance pilot who operates in Asia, said he’s experienced a lot of variety in services offered to business aviation.

“There are few FBOs as we think of them in the West. Most airports in Asia still use hardstand parking and handling agents, though with a high degree of success. Generally, the level of service meets or exceeds my expectations on almost every level,” he said.

“On a recent trip through Asia I was professionally handled by AeroWorks International at Tokyo Narita airport, KBAS [Korean Business Air Service] out of Gimpo International Airport, Seoul, South Korea, and Almaty on the western Asian frontier. What many airports lack in dedicated business aviation bricks-and-mortar they make up for in service,” Kraft said.

There are many aircraft management companies, charter and fractional operators that service Asia routinely from U.S. and European bases, but the important issue is the number based in Asia. Getting information about what’s happening in the region has historically been difficult, but some operators–such as Jet Asia based in Macau, ACI Pacific in Guam, Metrojet in Hong Kong and Deerjet in Beijing–are well known. Jet Aviation has locations in Beijing, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore offering aircraft management, charter and maintenance.

Roz Fielding, charter manager for Hunt & Palmer’s Hong Kong operation, agreed that last year was a good year. Hunt & Palmer coordinates demand with independent charter providers for its clients worldwide.

“We saw a solid increase in turnover and new clients last year. Despite the current economic downturn we remain optimistic for 2009 and expect to see an increase in demand for charter in the region. Travel demand in China is still high, with an increasing demand for aircraft charter in and around the Vietnamese and Cambodia regions,” she said. Fielding also noted there has been an increase in the number of aircraft in the region that are available with full charter capabilities.

While manufacturers are typically tight lipped about aircraft orders and deliveries in the region, Cessna recently announced the delivery of a Citation X to Bangkok-based MJets Limited. The airplane joins a Citation CJ3 already in the MJets fleet, and it is the second Citation X operating in Thailand. The Citation X is the first to be specifically available for charter in the country.

Aside from the Citation X announcement, a spokesman for Cessna said the company doesn’t have regional breakdowns of aircraft sold. A Gulfstream spokesman said that at the end of 2001 the company had 27 aircraft in service in the Asia-Pacific region; that number had risen to 74 by the end of 2007 and to 95 by the end of last year.
BAA Jet Management of Hong Kong also recently took delivery of its first managed Airbus A318 Elite; the company is the first to operate the aircraft in the Asian region. It is based in Shenzhen and available for charter.

Airport infrastructure is also improving, according to Ted Glogovac, Jeppesen’s product manager for international trip planning services.

“It’s one thing to operate your aircraft in the West,” Glogovac said. “You know what to expect and the rules are fairly uniform. Operating in Asia is a totally different experience.”

Glogovac characterized the services available in most parts of Asia as generally good. “The challenge is getting them in there and dealing with the necessary clearances, fees and so on, but once you’ve entered the airspace things go pretty well. The routing structure has definitely gotten better and what sometimes used to be the mystery of how to get from one place to another is now much better defined.”

Glogovac said many major Asian airports now offer VIP handling which costs on the average about $1,000 per stop and provides expedited customs, immigration and quarantine clearance, often right at the aircraft, expedited ground transportation drop-off and pick up, and greater security and anonymity for VIP passengers. Glogovac recommends that operators bring their own towbars.

Glogovac said that major airports now tend to have more than one handling service. “We welcome the competition because it makes all of us stay on our toes and do a better job.”

Russell Bunger, trip support specialist for Universal Weather & Aviation, agreed with Glogovac. “Getting into any major city in Asia is relatively easy today, but the one thing you have to remember is that, as in Europe, many of these cities have multiple airports. Some are open to corporate operators only at nighttime, some allow corporate flights any time but they don’t always have customs personnel on duty. You have look at your schedule and compare it with the requirements of a given airport. Giving yourself plenty of time and planning are the keys to success.”

Maintenance Options

The availability of maintenance in the region is also slowly improving. FAA-approved maintenance is available through Metrojet in Hong Kong and the Jet Aviation facilities in Singapore, Beijing and Kuala Lumpur. Nakanihon Air Service Co in Nagoya, Japan, has a long-established maintenance facility but it is not an FAR 145 repair station.

Large aircraft can find maintenance capability with Ameco Beijing, a joint venture between Air China and Lufthansa German Airlines established in 1989. The MRO provides services for the airframe, engines and components of commercial aircraft. It also offers services in training, engineering and logistics, as well as tooling calibration for China’s entire aviation industry.

A sure sign of growth in the region is the introduction of training. Historically operators have sent personnel to the U.S. and Europe for training. Last September, however, Metrojet hosted the first FlightSafety International G450 maintenance initial and fifth week avionics courses at the Hong Kong Business Aviation Centre. The training is the first of its kind conducted by FlightSafety in the Asia Pacific
region. Cathay Pacific is offering standard SEP/CRM training, and MedAire offers medical education training courses for crews.

Roger Rose, vice president of operations for International Pilot Services and past chairman of the NBAA International Operations Committee, has been operating throughout Asia since 1999. During that time Rose has delivered more than a dozen large and ultra-large-cabin aircraft and started half a dozen flight operations in the region.

“The key difference in Asia is that business aviation is still new. General aviation’s acceptance with local regulators will always define the framework for services. By and large, access is via the existent air carrier facilities using the assistance of agents. Dedicated general aviation terminals or FBOs are less frequent, although the Asian flair for service means that the finished product is likely to be exemplary regardless of the structure,” Rose said.

He cautioned about being patient. “When things don’t go well, I have witnessed some curious and non-constructive behavior by crewmembers. Believe me when I say there is no region where petulance is helpful. A typical direct Western demeanor may incense someone from this region more easily than in other places in the world. If the offended person is an official, you’d better get out your bicycle and start pedaling because that airplane isn’t going anywhere. In Asia, it’s a really good rule of thumb to be patient and supportive.”