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ABACE: Olympics Kickstarts BizAv Growth

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ABACE 2008

National Business Aviation Association President Ed Bolen opened the third Asian Business Association Conference and Exhibition today in Hong Kong by telling delegates the economic growth in the region makes aviation a natural partner for success.

"There is no doubt that the future is bright for business aviation in Asia. China, in particular, as one of the fastest growing economies in the world and fueled by the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games brings exciting opportunities for business aviation growth," he told the opening session.

Attendees and exhibitors are shivering in an unseasonably cold Hong Kong for the show. ABACE is smaller than last year, but is demonstrating that it still has value for manufacturers and regional operators. About 50 exhibitors and 800 registered attendees have flown in from all over the world and there is obviously brisk business afoot, with customer demonstrations and tours going on all day.

Officially there are 11 aircraft on display on the static, although there are several others out on the apron. Bombardier's offerings include a Global Express, a Challenger 605, and a Challenger 300. Cessna has brought a Citation Sovereign. Dassault has a Falcon 900EX. Eclipse is here with its EA500, whilst Embraer is showing a Legacy 600. Gulfstream has a G550, G450, and G150 and Hawker Beechcraft Corporation is showing a Hawker 950XP.

Airbus has announced new sales into region, including a second A350 XWB Prestige to an undisclosed Asian customer. It also announced an ACJ Prestige order, again to an unnamed customer, due to be managed by Hong Kong based BAA Jet Management, which manages aircraft in both Hong Kong and Mainland China. This is the third ACJ on the company's books. BAA also announced that it will take delivery of a second Gulfstream G200, and two Dassault Falcon 900EX EASy jets, bringing its managed Dassault fleet up to four. And in news that will please Gulfstream operators throughout the region, another Hong Kong-based company, MetroJet, announced that it has been upgraded to a full Gulfstream authorized repair facility, meaning it can offer both regular line maintenance and heavy checks. MetroJet now carries an inventory of $9 million on-site spares at its facility at Hong Kong's Business Aviation Centre at Chep Lap Kok airport.

In other news, Hawker Pacific is due to open China's first FBO in Shanghai later this year and the inaugural 2008 Taipei International Business Aviation Forum will take place at Shongsham Downtown Airport between May 29-31. There will be an indoor exhbition as well as a static display and seminars. Said organizer Shaun Huang, Adviser to the Chinese Aviation and Space Industry Development Association: "This is aimed at being both educational and promotional. We are trying to make it a breakthrough event and get jets from China to come over to Taiwan."

That ABACE is here at all is thanks to the efforts of the Asian Business Aviation Association (AsBAA), a group of companies committed to developing business aviation in one of the toughest international markets to crack. The association held its annual general meeting yesterday, which focused on the need for the industry to speak with a common voice. Speaking at ABACE's opening general session today, AsBAA Chairman Chuck Woods announced that the association is restructuring "with the target of raising awareness of what business aviation is about."

Customer desire for private aviation is here, but educating Asian officialdom is a daily battle. Operators have to deal with issues unthinkable in the U.S. or Europe. Woods said that every state treats business aviation as "a second-class citizen." For example, it can take two days to book a landing slot in Tokyo; ten days for permission to fly to Myanmar and foreign crews in China are given visas for a maximum of four days at a time.

On the plus side, the Taiwanese government has recently relaxed restrictions, there are incentives for operators in Singapore to develop their activities and China has promised to add 33 new airports by 2010. Woods also pointed out that China has a robust economy and businesses have an increasing need for international trips including high-level corporate travel. There is a new affluence in the region, particularly in Macau, which is fast becoming the Las Vegas of the East and there is a strong wish for luxury private leisure travel.

At the moment there are fewer than 500 turbo-powered aircraft in Asia, not including Australasia and India. However, this is partly due to availability as prospective owners join the rest of the world and queue for slots. The mood on site is bullish, despite the cold and according to Woods "there is only one way to go and that's up."

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