VistaJet is working hard to get its new Chinese joint venture up and running by the end of 2013. In January, the operator established an office in Hong Kong and it has now staffed this with a sales team. The next step will be to establish a representative office in Beijing with its joint venture partner and it has begun the licensing process to establish a Chinese air operators’ certificate (AOC) and register some of its aircraft in the country.
At the 2012 ABACE show, VistaJet (Booth P604) signed a memorandum of understanding with Beijing Airlines, the private aviation subsidiary of state-owned Air China. However, as of press time, the companies had yet to confirm whether this provisional agreement has led to agreement on full joint-venture terms.
According to VistaJet chairman Thomas Flohr, the company has seen an increase in flight bookings in and out of China over the past 12 months. “We are serving both Chinese and Western customers, carrying international companies into China and taking Chinese companies abroad,” he told AIN.
Once VistaJet’s AOC is in hand and the joint venture fully licensed and operational, the company will be able to start making domestic flights within mainland China. “But being able to fly from Beijing to Chengdu will not change the need for [customers] to fly from Beijing to Angola,” said Flohr. “Look at the land mass [of China]; most of the traffic is on the east coast. If you compare China with the U.S., then you could say that west of Denver there is almost nowhere to fly.”
Flohr believes that the Chinese market remains “wide open” for VistaJet’s mix of contract and ad hoc aircraft use options. “Originally, a lot of people thought that they should open a [traditional] charter company in China but they have learned the lesson [that this does not work],” he said. “What we offer is very scalable. Chinese people are realizing that owning an aircraft is very expensive and difficult. Our focus is on helping people who fly between 50 and 500 hours per year.”
A common perception among Western operators is that it is generally too hard to get the required overflight and landing permits to deliver the level of flexibility that customers seek in the charter market. According to Flohr, VistaJet’s early experience has been that this is not an insurmountable obstacle. “We have had a fairly good experience with [the permit process] and when we need permits urgently, we get them,” he said. “We feel we are being treated extremely well [by Chinese authorities]. They understand that we are very reliable and that we follow all the rules. This makes us a reliable partner for the Chinese authorities.” He added that opening a representative office in Beijing has paid off in term of having a good working relationship with local authorities.
VistaJet operates an all-Bombardier fleet and Flohr expressed his appreciation for the investment that the Canadian airframer has made in providing product support in China. In this respect, he feels the operators has also benefited from the technical commonality between its Global family of business jets and Bombardier’s CRJ regional airliners. “We will keep pushing the manufacturers to maximize the support footprint so that there are no [places without service infrastructure],” he said.
In Flohr’s view, China’s relatively limited airport infrastructure has not represented a significant obstacle to the operator and its customers. “We already fly to some of the most remote locations on Earth,” he said. “At many airports you have to go through the main terminal [instead of a private terminal] and there are many airports in China that are still controlled by the military.” He believes that, eventually, much of this infrastructure will be available to business aviation.
China is a key target market for VistaJet’s ambitious Think Global marketing campaign, launched in November 2012 to coincide with an historic order for up to 142 Bombardier Global family aircraft. “It is the dominant market in the north and northeast of Asia, but we are also seeing growth across [eastern] Russia and the CIS,” Flohr concluded. “India continues to be a challenge from a permit point of view, but we simply have to tackle these new markets one by one.”
VistaJet has a joint venture operation established in Malaysia and at any given time has three or four aircraft located in Asia. “No other Western operator flies [into Asia] as much,” Flohr claimed. “The challenge is that you can’t be everywhere, and we need to be able to provide guaranteed availability.” o