Last March, the business aviation spotlight shined brightly on Shanghai at the relaunch of the Asian Business Aviation Conference & Exhibition (ABACE). While the show was considered a rousing success by nearly all accounts, for the host venue, Shanghai Hawker Pacific Business Aviation Service Centre–the sole FBO at Hongqiao International Airport–the event served as a golden opportunity to showcase itself.
“What other FBO in the world gets to have 6,000 of its primary customers come and have an opportunity to see the facility up close and in person for three days?” said Carey Matthews, Shanghai Hawker Pacific’s general manager. “It cost us a lot of time and energy, but it is a superb opportunity to help aviation grow in China and also for us to grow in Shanghai.”
The sold-out event occupied the facility’s maintenance hangar, while part of its ramp accommodated a large exhibition pavilion, several OEM chalets and the static display of approximately 30 mainly large-cabin business jets. Organizers expect an even larger crowd next year with more aircraft on display. The location, which will be ABACE’s home for at least the next several years, has room on its “south” ramp to accommodate up to 80 aircraft, according to Matthews, without inconveniencing any of its transient traffic.
That exposure may indeed have translated into increased business. So far this year, the FBO’s traffic is up by 15 percent over last year. For July alone, business was up 61 percent year-over-year at the FBO and maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) facility, which opened in 2010. Hawker Pacific has had a presence in China since 1984 and operates a network of service locations, with four in Australia as well as sites in Malaysia and Singapore. The facility at Shanghai, its first in China, represents the culmination of six years of discussion with Chinese authorities.
FBO and Maintenance Services
That facility includes a terminal with more than 32,000 sq ft of lounges and offices, and boasts a first for private aviation in China: on-site customs, immigration and quarantine. “We can handle international arrivals and departures directly from the FBO so we don’t have to haul passports down to the main terminal,” Matthews told AIN. “The actual staff is based right there, and that’s a huge thing for China.”
The terminal has lounges with ramp-view windows, a crew rest area with showers and lounge chairs that convert into full-length beds, as well as a movie/karaoke room with lounge seating and a projection screen that Matthews contends is one of the nicest among FBOs worldwide. But, he noted, customers are seldom forced to spend time lingering in the building. “By the time you actually have clearance to go, they mean it; you are going to go, so we don’t typically have the backlog you might see at a Teterboro or Van Nuys,” said Matthews. “I don’t have any guys hanging out resting or waiting; it’s an efficient FBO for the passengers from that standpoint.” Another service provided is an on-request shuttle to take crews to hotels near the airport.
Given the strict regulations involved with bringing food onto airports in China, customer service representatives at the location specialize in facilitating catering orders, which can be stored in the facility’s large kitchen.
As the first independent MRO for business aviation in China, Shanghai Hawker Pacific is an authorized service provider for Dassault Falcon, Bombardier and Hawker Beechcraft. This fall, the company expects to finalize its deal with Cessna announced at ABACE, which will allow it to begin working on Citations, starting with the Sovereign. Also currently under review is the MRO facility’s certification under FAA Part 145; once approved, the facility would be authorized to perform maintenance on U.S.-registered aircraft.
The more than 43,000-sq-ft maintenance and aircraft storage hangar has a second-floor gallery with offices for the MRO staff. Plans call for an identical structure to be built, on a site that was prepared with some foundation and support structures at the time the first hangar was built. “We’ve already got blueprints and drawings,” said Matthews, “we just need the number of aircraft to be here.” Current growth projections suggest construction could begin in 2014.
While Hongqiao has a commercial jet curfew from midnight until 6 a.m., that ban does not apply to business jet arrivals, and the facility, which employs 60 workers, is open and staffed 24/7. The location is also responsible for as-needed agent and ground handling service for private aircraft at Pudong, Shanghai’s other international airport. As traffic to the city increases, Hawker Pacific plans to build a separate FBO terminal and hangar there as well.
Shanghai Hawker Pacific, like the handful of other FBOs in China, does not have a fueling contract at the airport. Indeed, all such activities are arranged through China National Aviation Fuel (CNAF), and the absence of any revenue stemming from fuel sales is one of the factors that drives FBO costs there to levels that are generally higher than most operators are used to encountering.
Matthews said that over the course of the year most Chinese-registered aircraft will pass through his facility. With China rising as an economic superpower and Shanghai at its financial epicenter, he recognizes that he has a front-row seat for major expansion in private aviation. “I think most people would probably give their left arm to be where I’m sitting right now, so I try to appreciate it daily,” he said.