Political stability aids bizav bounceback in Thailand

 - October 3, 2011, 10:15 PM
Business aviation traffic in Thailand is back in growth mode and Bangkok FBO MJets has further expansion plans in Asia, says managing director Jaiyavat Navaraj.

Business aviation activity is picking up in Thailand, with the Southeast Asian country enjoying a period of relative political stability after the recent general election. According to Bangkok-based bizav services group MJets, traffic levels at the capital’s Don Mueang Airport are about 20 percent higher than in 2010, with its FBO handling an average of 50 movements each month.

MJets, which is part of the Thai hospitality and leisure group Minor International, took over an exclusive five-year handling license at Don Mueang’s executive terminal in March 2010. In the first few months, when Thailand was gripped by violent political protests, the new FBO was receiving only 20-some aircraft each month, although this traffic started to recover in the latter months of last year.

According to MJets managing director Jaiyavat Navaraj, Don Mueang is now receiving a healthy mix of traffic including corporate aircraft, private and charter flights as well as technical stops and medical evacuations. Flights are arriving from across the globe, including operators from the U.S., Europe, the Middle East, India, China, Singapore, Malaysia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Macau, Hong Kong, Bangladesh, Australia, Japan and Korea. Several aircraft, including a Cessna Citation X, a Citation CJ3, a Bombardier Challenger 604 and a Piper Malibu are based at the facility.

By contrast, claimed Navaraj, Bangkok’s main Suvarnabhumi International Airport now receives only a handful of business aircraft each month, accounting for no more than 5 percent of bizav movements into the city. Nonetheless, MJets does have a satellite handling operation at this airport.

At Don Mueang, which used to be Bangkok’s main airport, there is a dedicated business aviation ramp that can accommodate about 20 aircraft at a time. MJets’s own hangars can take about eight midsize aircraft.

When MJets was awarded the exclusive handling license at Don Mueang last year some handling and flight-planning groups protested that the decision by the government-backed Airports of Thailand company had created an unhealthy monopoly. But 18 months into the license, Navaraj insisted that there is simply insufficient traffic at the airport to support more than one handling provider.

“With one FBO at the moment, it is already difficult to break even within the next four years,” he told AIN. “Having more than one FBO in a small market will only affect the business sustainability and eventually dilute the quality of services.” He pointed out that at the far busier Hong Kong International Airport there is also only one handling provider, and added that there have been no increases in MJets’s handling fees since it took over the license.

So far this year, MJets estimates that business aviation flying throughout Thailand is about 30 percent up on 2010. The company has handling bases at the southern resort of Phuket and the northern city of Chiang Mai, and can provide support at other airports by arrangement. It has ambitions to open FBOs in other business and tourism centers around Asia.

MJets also is active in aircraft maintenance. It is a Cessna-authorized service center (as well as a sales representative for the OEM in Thailand) and holds Thai Part 145 approval, and is in the process of applying for the equivalent FAA paperwork. The firm’s Don Mueang facility can provide line and base maintenance, including heavy maintenance checks, avionics support and cabin interior refurbishments.

In the charter market, MJets operates its own Citation X and CJ3, as well as a Piper PA-46 Malibu pressurized piston single. According to Navaraj, demand for charter has risen by about 25 percent over the past 12 months, including requests for longer flights to the Middle East, Australia and Europe.

In September, Florian Preuss was appointed as the new general manager of MJets. The 37-year-old German has extensive airline experience with British Airways, Virgin Atlantic and Etihad Airways, and he also holds a pilot’s license.