Business aviation makes inroads in Asia

 - July 1, 2011, 9:10 AM

The Asian market is waking up to the fact that companies using business aircraft earn more than those that don’t (141 percent more, according to an NBAA analysis). However, there are many obstacles remain to developing the private aviation sector in that part of the world. Until recently, no single Asian voice addressed the benefits and hurdles of establishing business aviation, but that is changing as the region’s associations begin to work together to create a more friendly environment for the segment.

During a session on international operations at the European Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition , three regional association leaders from Asia spoke about their respective territories: Capt. Karan Singh, vice president of the Business Aviation Association for India (BAAI); Jean-Noel Robert, chairman of the Asian Business Aviation Association (AsBAA); and Kazumobu Sato, vice president of the Japanese Business Aviation Association (JBAA), talked about the challenges of developing the sector in their respective locales.

India has seen strong and steady growth, with an installed fleet that has almost doubled since 2006, said Capt. Singh. The BAAI predicts there will be 1,793 business aircraft in India by 2020, but key to this development are infrastructure training and work on regulatory issues. India has a particularly difficult regulatory environment. For example, private aviation compliances are on a par with those of scheduled airlines so obtaining an operator’s permit is a lengthy process. In addition, there are hefty taxes on fuel, service and customs.

Fewer than 150 airports are open to business aviation, and facilities are substandard when compared with those of other countries, with limited parking space and customs and excise availability. Ground handling options are limited and expensive. Singh added, “To make things work we need ground handling, airports and heliports, maintenance faculties, spares and FBOs. We also need consulting, manufacturing and management and training.”

However, there is great hope for the country. Singh said, “All the major OEMs are bullish on the Indian market potential.” Indeed they have good reason, as there has never been less than 10 percent growth year on year in the Indian market since 2003. Today there are 552 business aircraft in the country, which is emerging as a global economic power. Singh added, “India will be the sixth largest economy by 2020 and the second by 2050. There has been a paradigm shift in the perception of business aviation and people are now seeing it as less of a luxury and more of a business enabler.” Many midsize and some small companies are now buying aircraft.

Singh said, “India is poised to be among the top five business aviation markets in the world. If we get the ingredients right, today represents just the tip of the iceberg.”

The BAAI has pledged to work closely with the authorities in India to find viable solutions to develop the sector. Singh predicts that the association would benefit greatly from others industry groups’ experience. He said, “There are highly successful models everywhere, it is easier to adapt and adopt rather than reinvent the wheel.” He suggested that the BAAI would also work closely with other associations throughout the world. He said, “We need to work together and act decisively and promptly.”

Business Aviation in the Rest of the Region

China and Southeast Asia experience many of the same obstacles to business aviation that India is facing. Robert pointed to the value an association can bring to the private aviation sector. He said, “AsBAA’s main purpose is to promote the benefits of business aviation in Asia and to support the interests of business aircraft operators and companies that manage those aircraft.”

AsBAA aims to foster the highest degree of operational efficiency and safety, as well as network business aviation entities in and outside Asia. It also advocates the benefits of business aviation to regulatory agencies and industry groups.

Business jet manufacturers are generally looking to mainland China for growth in the region and Chinese regulators have responded favorably–most notably recently by lifting restrictions on airspace. The country is slated to be one of the world’s fastest-growing private aviation markets in the next 10 years. Airspace over China–the world’s third-largest country by surface area after Russia and Canada–is under strict military control. There is an initiative under way to open lower airspace, meaning helicopters and light general aviation aircraft can fly more easily. Operations have also become easier for larger airplanes and people flying into the country. Formerly authorities required a week’s notice to approve a private flight plan. This has been shortened to within a day, if not just a few hours.

Japan faces problems similar to those of China and India. Recent dreadful events in the country have overshadowed many issues. However, Sato said that the business aviation sector has faced problems for many years with restrictive regulations, the limited number of airports and restricted landing slots. There are 98 airports in Japan, and only 25 of them are available for international operations without special permission.

However, the Japanese government has recently changed its approach. According to Sato, “The government has launched a special committee to improve business aviation in Japan and has been re-examining regulations, improving facilities and increasing landing slots for business aviation.” Such improvements include the deregulation of Tokyo’s international airports (Haneda and Narita). After October 31 last year eight daytime landing slots became available for international business aviation flights between 6 a.m. and 11 p.m.; there is no slot limitation between 11 p.m. and 6 a.m. Parking limitations were extended from five days to seven, and Narita International Airport Authority announced that it would build a new passenger terminal with customs facilities dedicated to business aviation by the end of this year.

Another new development is that foreign commercial operators have to wait only one day rather than three before flying into Japan. Sato said, “Japan is now on its way to change for the better.”