GAMA Aviation (Booth P362) is exhibiting here just over a year after it formed GAMA Aviation Hutchison (Hong Kong) Ltd., a 50:50 joint venture with Hutchison Whampoa. The joint venture, which now operates three aircraft on behalf of their owners, is based in Hong Kong but also “has access” to maintenance facilities in Beijing.
Keith Marshall, senior executive with GAMA Aviation based in Hong Kong, told AIN, “We’ve been really getting to grips with what is essentially a GAMA template for a ‘node’ in the Group–which can also draw on Group competencies.”
A former British Army helicopter pilot turned aerospace executive, Marshall has been running the operation in Hong for about a year now. “It took a couple of years [before that] to establish the joint venture with Hutchison–up until a year ago when we booked some aircraft under management and put people in place.
“We’ve started to put together a regional platform for Asia Pacific, which is in two parts really–China, with all its particular challenges, and the rest of the region, such as Indonesia and the Philippines,” said Marshall. “So now we have the [aircraft] management and [maintenance] capability that allows us to reach into China. We have established relationships in Beijing and elsewhere in the region and we’re already starting to spread our wings.”
Marshall said that there had been progress that he could not yet divulge, but that he expected that the company would be ready to make some announcements at some point this year. “We’ve got a strategy and a plan–and yes we’ll be developing FBOs and other capabilities in the region.”
He admitted that “issues at play” included the problems at Hong Kong that business aircraft operators have been experiencing, due to congestion and lack of slots. “Slot management at Hong Kong is really serious–let alone parking and moving aircraft. We’re very much in the same game” as Jet Aviation–which has established an FBO in nearby Macau.
GAMA Group chief marketing officer Duncan Daines, said: “I think for a long time we’ve been open about opening more FBOs around the world, but we’re not going to enter a turf war with the likes of Jet Aviation and Signature. We’re building what will be a fantastic new facility at Sharjah, which has great proximity to Dubai.” He added that GAMA is looking to open FBOs on a similar model, finding places where there are not lots of other FBOs.
“Having too many FBOs on an airfield is not good [for anybody]. In the Asia Pacific there are plenty of opportunities for FBOs,” as there are few in Asia in general. He suggested the Thai market was of particular interest.
Daines said GAMA could offer China its worldwide capabilities, from both the U.S., Europe and beyond. “From a [maintenance] point of view we’ve got a whole team of [technicians] in the U.S. that can easily fly out,” he said.
Marshall said this works, given the “overwhelming” predominance of long-range business jets in China. “So we really do benefit from the synergies of our infrastructure in Europe and the U.S.”
On progress to date, he said, “We’re not at liberty to share details yet, but we’re looking at augmenting existing infrastructure with our services. People are looking at consolidation and maximizing utilization of their infrastructure, for example, in MRO as aircraft get more reliable, so we think there will be more coexistence of commercial and bizav infrastructure. There is only so much space to go around.”
Here at the ABACE show, GAMA has increased the size of its stand and presence, said Daines. “It’s a calculated move to represent the stature of our presence…we’re not shying away [from China/Asia Pacific].” He did not think referring to China as an “emerging market” is still accurate, saying, “It has been going through one of those [difficult] periods. But the growth is not going to stop–and ultimately it will be the main place for bizav in this region.”
He said business aviation needs to highlight to authorities around China that “airports need to be built keeping business aviation in mind” and reminding them that their “global influence is measured by the people who fly into these hubs” even if the numbers of these VIP passengers might be relatively small. So they need business aviation if they “want to put their cities on the map.”
Marshall said he believes that despite the austerity drive, the Chinese authorities really do understand that business aircraft have “transitioned from tycoons’ toys to engines for economic growth.”
GAMA’s headquarters remains at Farnborough in the UK, but in recent years it has established Geneva, Sharjah and Glasgow facilities as well as ventures in the U.S. where it operates and support aircraft for membership operator Wheels Up.
Most recently, it acquired Aviation Beauport, an FBO operation in Jersey, UK, which is now GAMA Aviation Jersey. This has added four more aircraft to GAMA’s fleet “and brings light jets into the charter fleet,” said Daines.
In Glasgow, GAMA “just went through the formal launch of Hangar 2,” noted Daines, while in continental Europe, he said, GAMA had just signed a contract for a hangar facility in Nice, France. “It’s an interesting bizav entry point, and movements can get intense there,” he said.
Daines also said there would be some “interesting news” on the helicopter side soon, which GAMA+ hopes to announce before this year’s EBACE show in Geneva.