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FLIGHT DEPT PROFILE

Sino Jet flies execs worldwide from HKG

Chinese use of personal jets for business and pleasure fuels growth of Hong Kong air travel company.


G200 Lead Capt Abel Meregote with clearance copied and ready to depart for mainland China.

"Universal Aviation supports us from their primary bases," says Mack, "but they'll also reposition handling agents whenever we operate to remote or secondary airports on the mainland. This has paid off for us as they do whatever is needed to enhance the overall experience for our clients.

"An unprofessional ground handling experience has the potential to cause bad feelings with our clients and could damage our reputation," he continues. "Universal has brought standardization to our operation and set a benchmark for the industry in terms of trip management. They're also cost effective. We would not be able to duplicate the services they provide."

While Sino Jet's pace of growth is dramatic, the company hasn't cut corners in developing its jet support organization. Pilots, maintenance professionals and schedulers are hired for the long term and the company has implemented assorted safety programs—including IS-BAO and SMS certification—that are not technically necessary in terms of regulations and required procedures.

HKG operating economics

Hong Kong is an expensive part of the world in which to base and operate a corporate jet. Much of this higher cost is due to the supply-and-demand situation at HKG and HKBAC, which is skewed in favor of demand for infrastructure and local services.

It's a pricey proposition flying within this part of Asia and operators pay "compensation fees" of $6000-plus each time they enter mainland China airspace. Handling, nav and airport fees within the region are also relatively costly.

International support providers say that supporting a local flight for a new bizjet owner involves some 30% more time and manpower than it does in North America or Europe. Expatriate pilots and mechanics, who come to Hong Kong to support the burgeoning business aviation landscape, command about a 30% salary premium over what they'd be paid in the US. On the other hand, charter rates here are at about a 20% premium compared to the west.

China ops

Movie Star Jackie Chan's Sino Jet managed Legacy 650, serviced and standing by for any worldwide destination. (Inset) Chan in the left seat of his Legacy 650.

Locally-based business aircraft offer unique advantages as commercial transport alternatives here are often more limited than within developed western markets.
There are pros and cons to operating N-registered aircraft in Hong Kong and China, says Mack.

The advantage is that the owner is not subject to purchase tax—up to 28% of aircraft value—that applies to Chinese-registered operations. Also, pilots operating US-registered aircraft do not have to go through the process of obtaining, and maintaining, Chinese ATP licenses.

The N-registration route, however, requires longer permit lead times—officially 3 business days—for flights to the mainland, a limit of 6 flight sectors on the mainland (in addition to arrival and departure sectors) and landing fees several hundred dollars higher than for B-registered China-based equipment.

Pilot lifestyles

Sino Jet clients receive VIP service on the company's chartered Global Express.

Under Mack's leadership as COO are Dir Ops Terry Balentine and Chief Pilot Ron Culbertson. Capt Roberto Velez is responsible for training and standards while Capt Jim Markel is quality assurance and safety manager.

All aircraft in Sino Jet's fleet are operated by dedicated crews—typically 2 or 3 pilots and 1 flight attendant—as this improves "the owner experience." Sino Jet prefers to hire dual qualified pilots when possible, to maximize operational flexibility.

Pilots are hired for long-term positions and a current type rating, plus time in type, is preferred. Pilot pay scales are about 30% higher than stateside, a housing allowance is included, along with 1 airline ticket home annually, and pilots enjoy 28 days off per year. While all Sino Jet aircraft are currently N-registered, about half of company pilots are also licensed to fly B-registered equipment.

Lead Capt Justin Derkash joined Sino Jet in Nov 2012 to fly the Challenger 605, having previously worked with a Beijing-based flight department. He points out that new pilots to the region need to get comfortable with flying in China.

"Permits are required for everything," he says, "and making a change to any sort of trip is more complicated than in North America. There are language barriers and unique day-to-day challenges to consider when living abroad. But if you're ready for a bit of an adventure, this is the place to be."

Capt Fred Weber has been flying Sino Jet's G200 for the past 8 months with frequent operations to the mainland, Indonesia, Malaysia and Taiwan. "Permits for ops to the mainland take at least 24 hrs to arrange," he says, "and there are additional planning steps involved if you're flying to secondary or military airports in China, including requirement to hire navigators. One way we deal with language barriers is to have onboard flight attendants fluent in Mandarin and Cantonese."

Lead Capt G200 Abel Meregote left a flying position in the Middle East to join Sino Jet and pilot the G200 last April. He enjoys the local flying environment and likes living in Hong Kong. "Asia, and China in particular, have different operating challenges than the Middle East. It's important to know and understand the local culture, to preplan everything and constantly think ahead."

Corporate Flight Attendant Alice Chan, who speaks Mandarin in addition to other languages, previously worked in Germany but finds Hong Kong a particularly interesting operating environment and one in which crew need to take more initiative. "We manage every detail of inflight service and we often source catering—particularly at smaller airports or remote military airfields—from local restaurants or markets. Our flight attendants are able to assist crew with language barriers, but on occasion we'll also bring along a Mandarin-speaking pilot."

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