Reborn Abace Show in Shanghai Blazes a Trail for Bizav Growth in Asia

 - May 2, 2012, 5:50 AM
Blessed with near-perfect weather and a recovering economy, ABACE provided everything for those who desired these aircraft on the static line at the Shanghai Hawker Pacific FBO. Photo: David McIntosh

The rebirth of the Asian Business Aviation Conference & Exhibition (Abace) in Shanghai was, by common consent, a resounding success–especially considering the many challenges that organizer NBAA faced in running a modern trade show in China’s main business city. The March 27-29 event drew 156 exhibitors in a 43,000-sq-ft space provided by Shanghai Hawker Pacific Business Aviation Service Centre at Hongqiao Airport. The static display was populated by some 27 aircraft and was overlooked by eight exhibitor pavilions occupied by companies too large to exhibit inside the main hangar. The show was sold out two months ahead of its opening and almost a quarter of the exhibitors were companies from Asia–significant in an industry still dominated by Western manufacturers and service providers.

The new-look show, which had been suspended since it was last staged in Hong Kong in 2008, also attracted 6,375 visitors. By way of comparison, Europe’s first Ebace show held in Geneva in 2001 drew 3,600 visitors and almost 200 exhibitors.

“Abace 2012 met all of our estimates and expectations, as well as those of exhibitors and attendees,” said Ed Bolen, president and CEO of NBAA, which staged the show in partnership with the Shanghai Airport Authority, the Asian Business Aviation Association (AsBAA) and the Shanghai Exhibition Center.

For NBAA and AsBAA, Abace was a prime opportunity to engage with the Chinese aviation officials whose support and understanding is needed to allow business aviation to fulfill its enormous potential in China. The sense of urgency for effective lobbying was reflected in the eve-of-show announcement of the formation of the new China Business Jet Shanghai Alliance by the country’s leading aircraft finance provider, Minsheng Financial Leasing. Importantly, the new body is led by the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) and is the first official industry organization in the People’s Republic to include the 17 major business aircraft manufacturers–the only exceptions, for now, being Airbus and Boeing, whose attorneys voiced last-minute concerns about anti-trust implications. Also represented in the Alliance are leading Chinese operators Capital Airlines, China Eastern, Donghai Jet, Nanshan Jet, Wing-on Travel, Zhuhai Helicopter and First Mandarin Business Aviation.

Under the auspices of the so-called Shanghai Declaration, government officials and Alliance members agreed to work together to establish “a standard code of conduct to promote a sound and orderly development of the [business aviation] market.” They also committed themselves to addressing barriers to growth, such as the need to open restricted upper airspace to business aircraft, reducing taxes and using international expertise to create a better operating environment. Other objectives include encouraging development of better facilities in China for training, maintenance and ground handling.

Chinese government support for the Abace agenda was confirmed by the participation of CAAC deputy administrator Xia Xinghua, who told the show’s opening general session that the business aviation industry is finally being cleared for takeoff in China. “By the end of the current 12-year plan we expect there will be 30 [aircraft] management companies in China and more than 280 new airports, 40 of which will be dedicated business aviation airfields,” he said.

Addressing the same group, John Porcari, deputy secretary of the U.S. Department of Transportation, predicted that the wider Asian business aviation sector will surpass that of Europe by 2030. “It falls on us [Western regulators and companies] to develop regulatory mechanisms to promote responsible growth,” he acknowledged.

Also on the eve of the show, NetJets confirmed its plans to be part of China’s bizav growth curve. In a low-key announcement, it revealed plans for a new joint venture in China, forming NetJets China as an alliance with a consortium of Chinese investors led by Hony Jinsi Investment Management (Beijing) Ltd., a subsidiary of Chinese private equity group Hony Capital and Fung Investments, which is owned by the families of Dr. Victor Fung and Dr. William Fung.

Initially, fractional ownership itself will not be on the menu at NetJets China Business Aviation Ltd. Instead the company will focus on managing and chartering aircraft that are wholly owned by its customers. The joint venture is still awaiting full regulatory approval by Chinese officials and it will have its operational base at Zhuhai in the southern province of Guangdong, close to Hong Kong.

The next day, VistaJet announced its own new Chinese joint venture with Beijing Airlines, which is state-owned Air China’s private aviation subsidiary. Under a memorandum of understanding signed at Abace, the Europe-based operator will establish a base in Beijing with a view to eventually providing point-to-point service within China.

Hong Kong’s Metrojet and California-based Solairus Aviation launched a strategic alliance to offer aircraft maintenance and management services in Asia. The two companies, holding Hong Kong and U.S. air operator certificates, respectively, will exploit the flexibility of being covered by both regulatory codes to allow clients to offer their managed aircraft for charter.

Similarly, Sino Jet Management in Hong Kong and another Californian operator, TWC Aviation, forged a new alliance to increase options in Asia’s under-served charter market. TWC will fly charters in Asia using aircraft managed by Sino Jet but operated under the U.S. company’s Part 135 charter certificate and maintained and flown by its personnel. The first aircraft covered by the agreement is a Bombardier Global Express that will be based in Hong Kong.

New charter operator All-Points Jet placed an order for a pair of Gulfstreams, a G450 and G550 due to be delivered to the company’s base at Chengdu International Airport in next year’s first quarter. The company also provides management and maintenance services.

Gulfstream also marked its latest delivery into Greater China, with Hong Kong-based Asia Jet accepting its third aircraft from the U.S. manufacturer–a second 10-seat G200, which will join a G300. In mainland China, Nanshan Jet took delivery of a second G450.

Meanwhile, Minsheng took delivery of the first of 13 Embraer Legacy 650s that it has on order. The leasing group, which is part of Bank of China, also holds orders with Gulfstream and Dassault Falcon. Embraer’s Abace presence enjoyed show-business profile thanks to the presence of Hong Kong-born movie star Jackie Chan, who is one of its latest Legacy 650 customers and a brand ambassador for the Brazilian airframer.

Cessna took the opportunity to confirm its new agreement with Aviation Industry Corp. of China (Avic) and the Chengdu provincial government. This is expected to lead to local manufacturing of various Cessna models, including its Citation Sovereign and in-development Latitude.

Shenzhen-based Avion Pacific signed a $50 million deal with Hawker Beechcraft to buy 10 King Air twin turboprops. The charter operator, which also has bases in Beijing, Shanghai, Xian, Chengdu, Tianjin and Penglai, will begin to take delivery of a mix of 350is and C90GTxs in the fourth quarter of this year. It also intends to establish pilot and mechanic training facilities, as well as expand maintenance operations and create a new FBO at Zhuhai.

Reignwood, one of two Bell Helicopter distributors in China, closed a deal to sell a pair of rotorcraft during the show. Aerochine Aviation, the second sales representative, announced that 2011 was a record year for sales in China, despite continuing restrictions on civil helicopter operations.

Abace host Shanghai Hawker Pacific achieved further endorsement as China’s only independent third-party maintenance provider for business aircraft, by signing new authorized service center agreements with Cessna and Dassault Falcon. It is already established as an MRO provider for Hawker Beechcraft in China and operates the only FBO at Hongqiao Airport.