Charter Report Interviews

Creating Opportunities

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Creating Opportunities
Alex Jiao
Alex Jiao
Chief Executive Officer HONGKONG JET

Steering a private jet company through a pandemic requires one to simultaneously look inwards and also think outside the box, says Alex Jiao. The Chief Executive Officer of Hongkong Jet speaks to Asian Sky Group about finding possibilities amid uncertainties in the world of business jets and why the industry is on the road to recovery. Jeremy Chan reports.

If there is anything the COVID-19 pandemic has taught Alex Jiao, Chief Executive Officer of Hongkong Jet, it’s that within difficulty lies opportunity.

Indeed, as CEO of one of Hong Kong’s finest private jet companies, Jiao continues to lead the business through the turbulence and uncertainty that the pandemic and resultant travel restrictions have afflicted on the city’s business aviation industry over the last three years.

However, by leveraging on their existing operations such as their aircraft maintenance service lines, all while maintaining their ethos of providing only the best service to each and every client, the company has been able to stay afloat, and ensure a steady flow of revenue. Their efforts have proven timely – with the city having scrapped mandatory hotel quarantine for all inbound travellers in September, the company is able to rely on the trust they have established with their customers over the years and ramp up flights once again.

Established in 2009, Hongkong Jet commenced operations in 2011 and currently operates a fleet of three Gulfstream charter aircraft. The company also taps into its vast network of private jets through other business jet companies that comprise its group structure, which includes Deer Jet Co. Ltd., UAS, Asia Jet and Business Aviation Services Guernsey. This allows the organization to serve clients across the world in regions including Asia, North America, Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.

Finding solutions

Jiao has seen first-hand how the pandemic has shaken the aviation industry in Hong Kong since day one. “The past almost three years have been a difficult time for all Hong Kong-based business aviation operators,” he says. The ongoing border closures with the Mainland and the impact of the city’s more than two-year-long quarantine measures, according to Jiao, have presented obstacles for both business and leisure travellers entering Hong Kong, and discouraged would-be travellers from flying out of the city.

Instead of waiting for the situation to improve, Hongkong Jet zeroed in on its aircraft maintenance service line, which soon proved to be an invaluable source of funding. “Our aircraft management arm is still the main driver of revenue for the company,” adds Jiao. The company has a team of engineers not only in Hong Kong, but also in Mainland China and Southeast Asia. This helps Hongkong Jet to expedite jet maintenance services located in those regions, and also provide timely technical support to their operators. “So it’s not just aircraft management clients that we are helping – when operators ask us for technical support, we’re able to provide a quick response. We’re able to get aircraft back to service in a timely manner.”

Pandemic-induced difficulties also led to reduced competition for aircraft maintenance, Jiao adds. “We’ve seen some operators downsize and cut their Part 145 business in Hong Kong,” he says, referring to a standard of approval for companies that perform maintenance on aircraft and related components registered in European Union Aviation Safety Agency member states. “Less competitors also presented us with a good opportunity for business, and we continue to invest in this area,” highlights Jiao. 

Increased demand

Hongkong Jet also spent time mapping and developing more charter flight routes, with a focus on Southeast Asia, Jiao mentions. “There currently aren’t too many charter flights within the Greater China region, so we’ve had to look at other markets, such as Southeast Asia,” he says. The company has seen demand skyrocket for charter flights to and from destinations within Southeast Asia this year in light of dropped restrictions across the region. Thailand, for example, opened its borders to visitors as early as July 2021, albeit with limitations through its “Sandbox Program,” and began allowing in vaccinated travellers in February 2022. Vietnam fully opened its borders in March 2022, with Singapore welcoming visitors in April 2022.

“When Southeast Asia opened their borders, many aircraft owners used their planes to fly to Europe or the United States not for business, but for shopping, to go to the beach, or just to enjoy themselves,” he says.

Jiao has yet to see demand for business charter flights to pick up, relative to leisure charter flights. “We’ve also seen some demand for business travel, but it has yet to reach pre-pandemic levels,” he says, noting that prior to the pandemic, more than half of all flights were for the purpose of business. “But that has dropped to 20-30 percent. Now, the majority of flights are for the purpose of leisure.”

A waiting game

A more pronounced recovery of the company’s business and overall business aviation market in Hong Kong is still contingent upon the full opening of Mainland China, Jiao notes. “A relaxation in pandemic policies will benefit the private jet industry and drive growth within the market, but it will take time for the market to reach to pre-pandemic levels,” he says.

However, Jiao cautions that it isn’t only the uncertainty related to border closures or existing quarantines, but also the Mainland’s economic situation. Indeed, the International Monetary Fund, a major financial agency of the United Nations, predicts Mainland China’s economy to expand by only 3.2 percent in gross domestic product – the lowest growth rate seen in China in 40 years – according to its World Economic Outlook, which was issued on

11 October. The report cited the country’s property sector downturn, a volatile geopolitical situation and existing pandemic policies as factors hindering economic growth.

The economic climate in China and general sense of uncertainty about the future is also leading private jet owners to sell off their aircraft, Jiao says, noting that 60 to 70 percent of private jet owners in Hong Kong are in fact from the Mainland. This dwindling number of owners, adds Jiao, is having a knock-on effect on the Hong Kong market. “So the business aviation market all depends on Mainland China’s economic situation – because if it does recover and GDP reaches pre-pandemic levels, the market will make a comeback.”

Service of the highest quality

Unperturbed by the challenges in the way, Jiao is determined to continue offering the best – and only the best – service to Hongkong Jet’s customers. This, he says, is only achievable by always going to extra mile to meet the needs of each individual. “It’s our goal to supply our clients with the best aircraft and the highest level of service,” he says. “For example, in the event that one of our charter planes – which are already maintained and managed very well – isn’t able to meet the requirements or demands of our clients, we can arrange for another charter plane from one of our operators to fly in.”

This is largely because the details matter in the private jet business, Jiao says, noting that a large part of aircraft maintenance means ensuring every aspect of every jet is looked after in order to elevate the passenger experience.

We need to make sure that our clients do not experience any issues; they have to be happy with the service that we provide. This helps to build trust and confidence, which is very important.

It is building both a solid brand and customer experience that makes his role as CEO both challenging yet highly rewarding, Jiao says. “I want Hongkong Jet to be the most successful regional private jet operator,” he says. “This is why most of my time and effort goes towards the company’s business development. I find this to be very important, not only for the company, but also personally.”

HONGKONG JET

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