ADAPTING TO CUSTOMERS' NEEDS IN ASIA - Sarak Kalmeta, Director of International Business - South Asia-Pacific; Universal Weather and Aviation
AN EXPERT ON BUSINESS AVIATION OPERATIONS AND GROUND HANDLING IN APAC, SARAH KALMETA HAS SEEN EXPLOSIVE GROWTH THROUGHOUT THE REGION OVER THE COURSE OF HER CAREER. IN HER CURRENT ROLE WITH UNIVERSAL WEATHER AND AVIATION, INC., SHE’S TASKED WITH CONTINUING TO EXPAND THE COMPANY’S GROWING APAC PRESENCE WHILE SIMULTANEOUSLY EDUCATING LOCAL GOVERNMENT AND AIRPORT OFFICIALS TO UNDERSTAND THE BENEFITS OF THE INDUSTRY.
What are some of the challenges your customers face today in Asia?
With the rapid growth of business aviation in Asia, what we’ve seen is that the infrastructure sometimes simply can’t keep up. Take the current slot and parking situation in Hong Kong, which we could do an entire article on alone.
The other obstacle we bump into frequently are operating restrictions that were created without business aviation in mind. While business aviation is certainly not “new”, for many countries in the region, it’s always taken a back seat to the commercial airlines.
The combination of airport congestion and sometimes confusing operating restrictions introduces an enhanced element of risk and stress for our clients, who are already under tremendous pressure.
What is Universal doing to help clients in the region?
It starts with simply listening. What are the obstacles that are impeding their success? If it’s a certain location that’s causing the problem, we might look at expanding services there. It’s not a one-size-fits-all approach. We have multiple models, ranging from full-blown FBOs, to ground handling, to positioning dedicated concierge agents in high-stress locations to serve as an on the ground extension of our trip support services team.
And because we’re not just a trip support provider or just a handler, we can eliminate one of the most frequent issues that can disrupt a mission – miscommunication due to multiple handoffs. We’ve developed and are continuing to expand our presence in APAC with all of the services a business aviation operator needs. Our portfolio of products and services allows for integration and seamless transitions which allows us to take greater ownership of a mission. The result is fewer handoffs, more accountability, faster response times, and less risk for error.
Do you have plans to expand your presence in the region?
Yes, we’re always listening to clients and analyzing traffic to determine where our clients need us to have a physical presence and what type of model makes the most sense.
Our team is always seeking opportunities that we can make life easier for our clients by reducing their risk and stress. That could mean opening a new location in an area that traditionally has been difficult for operators or advocating on their behalf with civil aviation authorities to educate them on the unique needs of business aviation to encourage operating flexibility.
We’re also improving where we already are. For example, our Universal Aviation Singapore team earned IS-BAH accreditation last year and partnered with SATS Ltd. and Jet Aviation to operate Seletar Airport’s private jet center. One of the company’s goals is to attain IS-BAH accreditation for all Universal Aviation locations.
What’s new from a regulatory standpoint in APAC?
Hong Kong is always top of mind in the region. As of this interview, we’re currently still within a trial program that increased the number of slots for GA/BA operations at VHHH in the reduced night period between 1600-2059 UTC daily from four slots to six through the “Ask Us” function. That trial has been extended and is set to expire March 31, 2020.
There have also been some significant changes in Singapore with the implementation of a new noise abatement curfew at Seletar Airport that went into effect at the start of the year. The curfew is in response to noise complaints from local residents and restricts operations to the airport between 1400-2300 UTC.
Parking has also become more of a challenge at Changi Singapore (WSSS) in Singapore due to the grounding of the Boeing 737 Max aircraft. As a result, effective immediately, Changi Singapore Airport (WSSS) is not facilitating any general aviation/business aviation layovers until further notice. Only quick turnaround operations between 0200-1000z (LT1000–1800) will be facilitated subjected to runway/bay availability.
Japan has also recently introduced two new regulatory requirements for business aviation operators. The first is a new tourist tax, which went into effect in January, and requires a 1,000 yen payment per passenger who departs for overseas from airports in Japan by aircraft or ship.
Japan also just published a new Falling Objects AIC that goes into effect in March. This new requirement is part of Japan’s efforts to prepare for the upcoming 2020 Olympic Games and increase runway slot capacity, more flights will now be routed over the city center. To comply, operators must sign two memorandums that affirm they will take measures to help reduce the occurrence of dropping aircraft parts, falling ice blocks or falling objects from in-flight aircraft during its taking off or landing at airports.
Are there any specific high-traffic events coming up in the region?
China just hosted the BOAO Forum for Asia and the China Development Forum and ABACE 2019 will be in April. But after ABACE, all eyes will be on Japan for the next 18 months. The country is hosting a series of high-traffic, high-profile events, starting with the G20 Summit in Osaka in June, the Rugby World Cup in September, the Imperial Enthronement Ceremony in October, and culminating with the Olympic Games in Summer 2020.
Currently, the Japanese government and the private sectors are working to identify opportunities to make operating to these events more seamless for business aviation operators, with a huge emphasis on slot expansion and more efficient utilization in Tokyo.
For more information on new regulations and high-traffic events impacting business aviation in APAC, visit universalweather.com/blog.