Even with the protests in Hong Kong that have garnered headlines since June, business aviation travel there has not been drastically affected, according to the Hong Kong Business Aviation Centre (HKBAC), the lone FBO on the field, which has seen only minimal erosion.
“Surprisingly, our movements haven’t changed much, and I can say it’s business as usual,” said Minnie Kan, the company’s head of business development. She told AIN that the facility saw double-digit growth last year over 2017, and that this past August, during the height of the unrest, which saw the airport actually shut down for a day due to protests, business aviation traffic (which makes up better-than 90 percent of HKBAC’s clientele) was up year-over-year for the month. “We found that the government and airport authority found ways to maintain the smooth operation of the airport and indeed they keep in very close communication with the stakeholders,” said Kan.
She attributes an overall decline in the region’s business aviation traffic to economic worries. “It dropped a lot in some Chinese cities because of the overall economic downturn or the China-U.S. trade war tensions, but still in Hong Kong, we maintained the level of 2018,” Kan said. “The demand is still there, and they still try to get the slots that they want.”
She added that discussions and coordination between the government, the airport, and Hong Kong’s Civil Aviation Department have resulted in additional slot allocations for business aviation flights. They can be requested through HKBAC Connect, the FBO’s online ordering system where customers can place their flight handling requests, including desired fuel uplift. An enhanced application, which will debut next year, will provide customers with instant flight status information, such as the arrival of crew and passengers to the terminal, as well as their baggage. Such information would be of use to operators and executives' personal assistants. “Instead of passively waiting for our stakeholders or clients to call in, we would like to be more proactive to provide this information to them,” said Charise Shek, HKBAC’s head of customer service.
While aircraft parking had been a long-standing problem at the airport, that has largely been resolved, according to Shek. She noted that with the recent opening of the midfield parking area, the airport now has approximately 70 stands for business aviation, with parking permitted for up to 14 days, one of the longest periods allowed at an Asian airport. The FBO itself, which celebrated its 20th anniversary last year, has more than 12 acres of ramp space that can accommodate 30 aircraft, and more than 107,000 sq ft of hangar space able to handle up to ACJ/BBJ-class aircraft.
HKBAC averages 20 to 25 movements a day and provides fueling from the airport’s Shell-supplied tank farm. It operates three tankers with a combined capacity of 12,680 gallons, but due to demand from more and larger aircraft, the two hydrant ports that were installed on its ramp in 2017 are seeing increased usage. They are proving very useful in periods of peak demand when the trip to refill trucks at the fuel farm could take upwards of half an hour.
Among the advances, this past August saw the first trial flight of a civil helicopter between Hong Kong International and Zhuhai Airport on the mainland. While the planning for the event involved many permit-related “hiccups,” it could someday pave the way for regular rotorcraft service around China’s Greater Bay Area. “For the entrepreneurs within Shenzhen, the demand is there,” Kan said. “They want to extend to Hong Kong to connect both cities with so many global companies to facilitate their business.”
With the development of land bridges connecting Hong Kong to the mainland, road travel linking Hong Kong with destinations such as Macau, Zhuhai, and Shenzhen has become much easier, and business aviation now has more choices when it comes to suitable airports in the area, giving HKBAC more competition than it has faced in its two decades.
“A couple of years ago they did not have these choices, either because of the lack of the road transport or the [aviation] facilities were not up to standard as well,” said Kan. “In time, they have also grown up a lot, so that’s why we say we have to maintain our competitiveness. We’re not a monopoly, indeed, if we look at the bigger circle.”