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CROUCHING TIGERS

An Interview with the Asian Business Aviation Association

Southeast Asia is fragmented- but bursting with growth and potential. The Asian Business Aviation Association (AsBAA) aims to coordinate some of the chaos and harness its powers.

Like the other two regions featured in our magazine- Southeast Asia struggles to create a harmonious set of guidelines and rules that work for Business Aviation throughout the vast area that it covers. Definitions vary- but there are definitely 11 countries (Brunei- Cambodia- East Timor- Indonesia- Laos- Malaysia- Myanmar- Philippines- Singapore- Thailand and Vietnam) and two territories (the Christmas and Coos Islands) within the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN).

There are also strong links with Japan- as well as Hong Kong and Macau – both special administrative regions of China - as well as Australia and New Zealand. Understandably the task of harnessing groups in such different cultures seems steep - but it’s not impossible.

Back in March 2011 AsBAA took on a new flavor with a leadership change. Members voted in a new Board of Directors at the Annual General Meeting.

Jean-Noel Robert- Airbus’ Corporate Jets area sales director for Greater China- Japan and Korea became chairman (replacing Chuck Woods- a long-time board director); and Embraer China’s sales VP- Lee Li and Bombardier’s then-regional Asia Pacific VP for business aircraft- David Dixon were appointed vice-chairmen. The other two members of the executive committee are Hawker Pacific Shanghai’s business development director Helena Lang and Thailand’s OrientSKY’s Ekavaj Amornvivat.

The new leadership team works as a group and prefers to speak and be quoted in unison wherever possible. A key priority is to increase the number of AsBAA members [which numbered around 40 at the time of the election]. Both Li and Dixon have long histories in the region and believe that “AsBAA believes that until an operator is prepared to take a risk and import aircraft that are strictly for charter- the situation will remain static.” A Business Jet lands in Kuala Lumpur Photo © Ian Lim there is strength in numbers – particularly numbers that have access to ears that count.

The Usual Suspects That Bar Development
Robert pointed out that in addition to problems with infrastructure in the region- skills shortages and lack of a coherent pan-regional ATC policy- there are simply not enough aircraft to cater for the market at the moment. “One thing that is hindering the development of a Business Aviation sector here is a lack of aircraft. Owners are High Net Worth Individuals (HNWIs) who like to keep themselves to themselves.”

AsBAA believes that until an operator is prepared to take a risk and import aircraft that are strictly for charter- the situation will remain static. Robert continued- “People get fed up with constantly inquiring and finding out that there are no aircraft available. It is hampering the industry.” This leads to a lack of demand- and then there is a vicious circle of a great deal of interest and managed aircraft- but a crippled charter market.

Another issue AsBAA is tackling is the number of trade shows in the region. Dixon observed that there had been too many events recently and that the Association had to “decide on the trade shows that we will endorse.” This again feeds into the lack of available aircraft and time that executives have to travel to such shows.

China is the Promised Land for most entrants to Asia- although there is strong activity in Hong Kong- Japan- Indonesia and Singapore- with aviation hubs in Malaysia and the Philippines. The actual installed fleet in China on the B-register is around the 170 mark with several new deliveries slated for the next 12 months. All the major OEMs are reporting sales right across the region- so China is not the only honey pot.

There is a large untapped potential market not only for aircraft- but also for related services – maintenance- training- pilots and the like. There is also a small illegal charter sector- but Robert said this is “nothing like” the problems experienced in the Middle East.

A real problem- however- is sourcing companies to manage and support the jets. There are reports of regional management firms turning down aircraft- since they do not believe they can support them effectively. It is also difficult to recruit Western pilots and technicians to live and work in the region. Lee Li insists that the key to developing Asia’s potential is to educate the market. “People need to know the benefits that Business Aviation can bring-” he stressed.

All this equates to a huge task on AsBAA’s hands. For now the directors have concentrated on reorganizing the constitution and creating committees one at a time. The first is already in place and held its inaugural meeting in September. Robert hopes that the Hong Kong Operators’ Committee will be a template for other regional boards to work from. “We need operators to voice their needs and tell us what they want us to do-” he clarified.

The board also wants to cooperate with its regional counterpart the Japan Business Aviation Association (JBAA). Japan had such a tough year last year- but it is recovering. Kazuyuki Tamura- director- said that the Japan Civil Aviation Bureau is now working on relaxing some of the stricter regulations that hinder the development of private aviation- such as ease of registration in Japan- which should encourage development of charter operations.

The good news is that there is definite movement in Southeast Asia towards developing a Business Aviation culture. Robert is bullish about the future. He summarized- “We are tackling our top priorities first- one by one- but there is a strong market here and we intend to step up.”


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