Shanghai Hawker Pacific Business Aviation Service Centre (SHPBASC) is reprising its host role at ABACE 2015, while the company is also marking the fifth anniversary of its opening in April 2010. SHPBASC’s 4,000-sq-m (43,000-sq-ft) hangar facility here at Hongqiao International Airport serves as ABACE’s main exhibit hall, and the 4,800-sq-m (52,000-sq-ft) Exhibitor Pavilion and aircraft static display are outside on its expansive ramp.
SHPBASC is a private, full-service FBO (Fixed Base Operator) facility of the kind commonly found in the U.S. and Europe but increasingly common elsewhere. FBOs allow general aviation users to come and go without many of the hassles of commercial air travel. But this model is a rarity in China, though it appears to be in demand. Despite the slowdown in China’s business-aviation activity reported by many in the industry, the number of flights SHPBASC handled last year was up 6.5 percent over 2013, said Carey Matthews, SHPBASC general manager.
The Sunday before the show was the location’s busiest in its five years with 50 aircraft movements split nearly equally between Hongqiao and Pudong where it also performs business aircraft handling. While most of the Hongqiao aircraft were ABACE related, the Pudong traffic represents normal business traffic, according to Matthews. For March, business aviation traffic to Shanghai was up 18 percent over the previous year.
Also last year, the company became an authorized Cessna Service Center, received approval from the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) to perform structural repairs, and opened a shop in the facility to service aircraft batteries. The move into MRO (maintenance, repair & overhaul) is paying off, as MRO service hours grew 70 percent in 2014 compared with the previous year, and the company is now providing AOG (aircraft on ground) services around China, dispatching maintenance personnel to get grounded aircraft back in the sky.
But no SHPBASC anniversary celebration is planned, in deference to the government’s current emphasis on austerity. “Things are a bit more muted,” Matthews said. As for his own take on the current state of business aviation in China, “It’s not so much a frenzy as it was before, but in the long term it’s going in the right direction,” he said. “The people who bought airplanes are flying, and using them as they’re intended to be used. And they seem happy.” Matthews will expand on his views during an industry overview he’s presenting here at ABACE.
SHPBASC is a joint venture between Shanghai Airport Authority (majority owner) and Hawker Pacific, one of Asia Pacific’s major aviation services companies, with FBOs across Asia Pacific, the Middle East, and Australia. The Airport Authority’s mission is to make Shanghai and the airport a world-class transportation hub, and SHPBASC is part of that strategy. Its lounge and private terminal rival the best in the world, and onsite customs and immigration/quarantine clearance speeds international transit.
Hawker Pacific is highly involved in the management and branding of the company, Matthews said. “It’s been a very good relationship. Both parties are really active. The Shanghai Airport Authority has been an exceptionally good partner for us.”
Self-deprecating about his company’s involvement in ABACE (“It just so happens our facility is really the only place to host it.”), Matthews expressed admiration for show organizers. “It’s super-challenging for the NBAA to set this up, working from such a distance, and I think they’ve gotten pretty good at it,” he said. “They’ve put a lot of energy into it, and made an investment in the China market.”
While acknowledging that playing host at the show is good for the company, Matthews sees it as a win-win for the bizav community. “It certainly helps expose our capabilities to Asian customers, and it helps them understand what support looks like,” he said. “Part of the educational maturing of the customer is to be able to come to the show, and not only see the aircraft, but also see facilities, and see the whole ecosystem that keeps these aircraft going.”
At the end of the day, trappings of luxury associated with FBO facilities aren’t of great interest to business aviation users, Matthews said. “Most of our customers are here just for the convenience of being able to transfer quickly from aircraft to vehicle, to get downtown. Our focus is to make sure it’s speedy. Our customers’ time sensitivity is unique.”
Much work goes on behind the scenes to make that seamless flow appear effortless. “A lot of energy is focused on helping get slots [for arrivals and departures] and making sure there are no delays, and I have to say we’re very successful at that,” Matthews said. “We are very focused on integrating business aviation with ATC [Air Traffic Control].”
Nonetheless, Matthews downplays the difficulties often heard about regulatory hassles and challenges of operating business aircraft in China. “We’re in Shanghai. People can get where they need to go with enough advance notice,” he said. “I know there are restricted routes here in China, [but] generally it works pretty well. We’re not in the U.S. and it’s not the same ATC system, but once acclimatized to the system, it functions. Otherwise you wouldn’t see people buying aircraft.”