Even during its inception in 2012, Asia Flight Services (AFS) had to deal with changes. Initially set up to support the launch of new routes for the German leisure carrier Condor to Myanmar and Cambodia, the airline suspended services just after a few months due to a change in strategy and AFS became a full-fledged aviation services company to support nonscheduled aviation services with a focus on business aviation.
It expanded to most of Indochina and saw its business quickly expand to cargo, scheduled passenger, military, and government flights, and support for high-level events such as the ASEAN and APEC summits.
However, during the onset of the pandemic in early 2020, AFS shifted away from business, leisure, and government trips toward repatriation and evacuation flights, as well as cargo flights for personal protection equipment delivery. By around April and May 2020, traffic halved to pre-pandemic levels. At that stage, numerous governments were chartering airliners to repatriate citizens that were stranded in Southeast Asia due to lack of flight options or closed airports.
“We supported many such missions both in terms of handling and by liaising with the respective embassies for all clearances,” said AFS business development manager Aljoscha Subasinghe. “But not all repatriation flights were organized in this manner, though. Quite a few passengers decided to organize their own flights, using business jet operators, to maintain flexibility and distancing.”
Vietnam operations started in 2014 and are one of AFS's brightest-growing markets alongside the government’s investment in the aviation sector and strong economic data. Although Vietnam managed to be one of the success stories in the world in terms of controlling the virus, measures for visitors are extensive and strict and the processing time is relatively long.
“For this reason, hardly any leisure traffic is taking place at the moment, but business and repatriation flights are still operating once the required documents are in place,” he added.
As one of the founding markets for Asia Flight Services, the unexpected coup in Myanmar by the military on February 1 gave the company another issue to ponder. Known as Myanmar Aviation Centre locally, it is one of the group’s larger local teams and it supports both commercial airlines and nonscheduled clients. The company now has to deal with fuel shortages and strict entry restrictions for crew, although Subasinghe said operating flights to Myanmar recently "is not easy, but not impossible either."
Subasinghe said during the lull period of the pandemic, the company overhauled its internal processes to root out inefficiencies and improve customer satisfaction, and in March achieved IS-BAH accreditation for its services in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam, while Bangladesh and Papua New Guinea stations are participating in the NATA Safety 1st Ground Safety Program.
Moving into 2021, the company was able to maximize its decentralized "boots on the ground" concept of operation and provide timely updates, adapt quickly to new situations, and provide services "as usual." While the aviation industry continues to be affected by the pandemic, AFS still has its eyes on expansion.
“Our strategy has always been to look for areas where clients are not satisfied with the service they are receiving and finding a way to remedy this gap in the market. Most of our expansion has been client-driven in this regard and we have done well with this approach,” Subasinghe said. “We will keep focusing on improving our core benefits of direct communication, seamless service, and even better regional coverage.”