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Flying bizjets to Asia


Distances, winds, and bureaucracy are challenges on the high road to Asia.

By Jörg Peter Berendsen
Contributing Writer

HondaJet landing at CTS (New Chitose, Japan). This airport island of Hokkaido is located closest to the US west coast and Alaska.

It was a beautiful desert morning. We were preparing 2 Piper Cheyenne IIIA trainers for departure at KWI (Kuwait). The aircraft were to be delivered to the Civil Aviation College of China in Guanghan, Szechuan, China, just north of Chengdu. We had flown them already to Kuwait from VRB (Vero Beach FL) via Greenland, Europe, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia.

The crew was a mix of Lufthansa instructor pilots and technicians, as well as Chinese pilots and translators. They were ready, and so were the aircraft, which sported temporary “N” registrations, Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) livery with a big red flag on the tail, and Lufthansa flight numbers for ATC and overflight permits.

On one of the aircraft, we had discovered an inoperable transponder that morning. While our electronics technician tried to fix this issue, we contemplated delaying the flight, as the Persian Gulf was a very tense environment, and civil aircraft had been misidentified and shot down before. In the end, we decided to fly as scheduled but in loose formation in order not to lose our diplomatic overflight clearances for Pakistan, India, Myanmar, and China, so we departed Kuwait.

It took us 3 more days to get to Guanghan. We arrived safely at the school’s military-style airport after stopping in MCT (Muscat, Oman), KHI (Karachi, Pakistan), and CCU (Calcutta, India). There was a great welcome banquet and party, and then we started to work on the modernization of China’s aviation system. This was back in 1990. The results are well known.

Flying to Asia

If you ask me if you can fly your turboprop all the way to China, I will say yes, it can be done. Whether it makes sense is a different question. Today’s executive jets, however, offer ample performance and range, as well as precision navigation. Technically, it is now a realistic proposition to fly your own jet to Asia.

While a flight to Europe from the US has become routine for many operators, flights to Asia are still a whole different story. Asia is the largest of the continents, stretching from Istanbul, Turkey to Vladivostok, Russia and Bali, Indonesia.

The ongoing war in Ukraine has caused the closure of Russian airspace. Chinese airspace and Chinese airports are not really recommended either. And Covid-19 restrictions are such a burden to both residents and visitors that one wonders if they are really to protect people from Covid, or the government from the people. Therefore, in this article I will not discuss routings over Russia or China. In a more peaceful and sensible time – hopefully in the near future – I will gladly revisit this subject.

Distances to, from, and within Asia are immense. And the currently required or preferable avoidance of Russian and Chinese aerospace does not make flight planning easier. The choice of route depends very much on where you are located in the US and where you want to go in Asia.

Ops from the US west coast

Hong Kong Business Aviation Centre provides all services at very high standards for business jets operating internationally.

Business destinations in Japan, Korea, or Taiwan from the Los Angeles basin, the San Francisco Bay area, or Seattle and surroundings are best reached via Alaska, the Aleutian Island chain, and then to the northernmost Japanese island of Hokkaido, using CTS (New Chitose, Japan).

A suitable jumping-off point in the US would be either ANC (Anchorage AK) or FAI (Fairbanks AK). While ANC is the larger and better known airport, FAI offers very good facilities in a much drier inland climate. This may be to your advantage, especially in the winter time. The extra great circle distance to Japan is just a few miles. The distance from ANC to CTS is 2608 nm, while the distance from FAI to CTS is 2641 nm.

The route involves some of the strongest headwinds in the Northern Hemisphere, few alternate airports, and yes, you cross the International Date Line. While cruising over international waters off the Russian Siberian coast, you may face headwinds of 150 kts and more.

This brings ADK (Adak AK) into play. ADK was built during WWII on Adak Island, just 18 ft (5 m) above mean sea level. It has 2 runways with asphalt surfaces – Rwy 5/23 is 7790 x 200 ft (2374 x 61 m), and Rwy 18/36 is 7605 by 200 ft (2318 x 61 m). The latter is now permanently closed for all operations. You have to be ready for windshear, concentrations of birds, and adverse weather. The terrain is mountainous and there’s a volcano on the island, but ADK is a destination of Alaska Airlines, and may serve as a fuel or technical stop on your way to Japan. Using this route, the distances become much more manageable. From ANC to ADK, you fly 1175 nm, plus 1753 nm from ADK to CTS.

Japan offers a very modern and efficient ATC system, modeled after US and international regulations. Altimeter settings are given in inches, just as in the US. Your airport of entry would be CTS, which serves the Sapporo metropolitan area. By both traffic and land area, it is the largest airport in Hokkaido. The area boasts beautiful mountains, and has hosted the Winter Olympic Games.

It is adjacent to Chitose Air Base, a Japan Air Self Defense Force (JASDF) base which houses McDonnell Douglas F-15 Eagle fighter jets, the Japanese government’s “Air Force One,” and smaller emergency response aircraft and helicopters. Chitose Air Base and CTS have separate runways, but are interconnected by taxiways, and aircraft at either facility can enter the other by ground – if permitted. The runways at Chitose Air Base are used occasionally to relieve runway closures at CTS due to winter weather. JASDF provides air traffic control for both facilities. From CTS, it is only 442 nm to HND (Haneda, Tokyo, Japan).

On to Taiwan and South Korea

Japan is a large country with many airports, stretching some 1210 nm from Hokkaido in the north to Okinawa in the south. Flying from Japan’s southern airports to Taiwan or South Korea is straightforward. The area is well known for political conflicts with China, so make sure you follow all flightplan filing, ATC, and air defense identification zone (ADIZ) reporting procedures. It is a good idea to have 121.5 MHz selected on your number 2 VHF at all times so that your flight can be called via radio by any ground station with a concern.

This is especially true when flying to Seoul, South Korea. It is so close to the North Korean border that unidentified aircraft may be shot down. This warning note is printed on all approach charts of the area and should be taken seriously.

Seoul offers 2 airports – ICN (Incheon, Seoul, South Korea) and GMP (Gimpo, Seoul, South Korea). GMP is Seoul’s old airport, and is situated much closer to the city. I would recommend it for your executive aircraft operation.

Taiwan, officially known as the Republic of China, offers general aviation terminals (GATs) at TPE (Taoyuan, Taiwan) and several other airports. TPE is only 352 nm from Okinawa. Taiwan’s complex relationship with China makes it absolutely essential to check with your international service provider (ISP) about the detailed rules.

Keep in mind that you will most likely not be able to fly to China from Taiwan, but once you arrive in Hong Kong, for example, you’ll find a very well established GAT. Again, talk to your ISP, as Hong Kong is under the influence of China’s Covid-19 and other security policies.

Via the South Pacific

This aerial photo of DEL (New Delhi, India) shows that business aviation is firmly established in India now. Your own aircraft is one of the best ways to get around efficiently and safely in this rapidly developing country.

More southerly destinations, including Taiwan, may also be reached via the South Pacific island-hopping route. If you don’t feel your aircraft can support northern Pacific operations safely, the other option is to head for Hawaii, Midway, Guam, and from there to your Asian destination. But beware – the Pacific is a big pond. Usable alternate airports are very far away from each other, but the weather is generally much quieter than in the North Pacific.

If you want to fly the South Pacific route, your aircraft’s performance requires quite a bit of range. San Francisco CA to Honolulu HI is 2081 nm, and from Honolulu to Midway is 1137 nm. Then you add another 2285 nm to Guam, and 1500–2000 nm to reach your Asian destination.

FAA’s Flight Technologies and Procedures Division publishes a free guidance booklet for Pacific operations entitled Pacific Resource Guide for US Operators, which offers a wealth of detailed information about regulations and procedures, plus many useful contacts and Web links. It’s available at faa.gov/sites/faa.gov/files/2022-03/PAC.pdf.

Ops from the US east coast

For some destinations in Asia, it makes more sense to route your flight via Europe. This is especially true if you’re departing from the US east coast and are heading for India. Flying to Europe is straightforward and has been discussed in other articles. (See Pro Pilot, May 2022, p 16).

Until this year, the shortest route from Europe to India was via Ukraine, southern Russia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. In light of the war in Ukraine, we are now back to routings of the Cold War, via Istanbul and through Turkish airspace to Iraq, the Persian Gulf, and over the Arabian sea to Mumbai.

Alternatively, you may fly over the Black Sea, through Georgian airspace, Azerbaijan, Turkmenistan, Afghanistan, and Pakistan. There are well-served airports in the area. For example, GYD (Baku, Azerbaijan) has good facilities due to the local oil industry. TAS (Tashkent, Uzbekistan) and DYU (Dushanbe, Tajikistan are well-maintained airports that saw a lot of business during the Afghanistan War.

Both routings require overflight of territories where US military action has taken place recently or is still ongoing. Meticulous preparation of your flight is of the essence. While airliners follow a regular schedule and are usually known to air defense units, general aviation (GA) flights will most likely invite more scrutiny.

India itself has many airports. Most of them host mixed military/civil operations, but they’re accessible with the correct paperwork. The country is updating its infrastructure, and has done a good job with DEL (Delhi, India) and BLR (Bangalore, India). GA traffic in India has increased tremendously in the past 20 years, and executive aviation has become more common.

From India, you may head further via the Bay of Bengal to Thailand, Singapore, and Indonesia. While aviation infrastructure in these countries is very good, proper permissions have to be secured well in advance through your ISP.

Regional weather

Upper winds blow usually from the northwest and give you a nice push from Europe to Turkey and Saudi Arabia. South of the Himalayas, you may encounter a seasonal easterly jet, depending on the state of the monsoon. The biggest weather factor is convective weather. Cumulonimbus (Cbs) towering to 60,000 ft or more are fairly common over the southern slopes of the Himalayas, India, and the Bay of Bengal. Some areas, such as Afghanistan and the Himalayas, feature very high terrain. This is not only an aircraft performance consideration, but is also important regarding oxygen supplies after an emergency descent.

The bottom line

Routings to Asia from the US are a big subject. The bottom line is that the current restrictions regarding Russian airspace and China’s Covid-19 policies restrict flights somewhat to routes that are quite similar to the old Cold War airways. On the positive side, GA infrastructure has improved, and the handling of your jet should not be a problem at most airports. The southern countries of the former Soviet Union, such as Georgia, Azerbaijan, and Turkmenistan, are open and actually quite active as they pick up a lot of the trade that is now restricted with Russia.

You should not attempt a flight to Asia without the support of an internationally well-versed ISP. With professional preparation, a careful eye on weather and winds, and a well-maintained business jet, a trip to Asia should be a great experience. And when you relax in the historic Raffles Long Bar in Singapore with a Singapore Sling, enjoy the feeling of being on the other side of the Earth.

Jörg Peter Berendsen flies Boeing 747s as a captain for Lufthansa. He holds ATP and CFII licenses, and writes regularly for Pro Pilot on aviation-related subjects.