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Seletar airport ramps up facilities to woo more business travellers

Singapore's second airport aims to become region's business aviation hub.

Collectively, they are worth anywhere between US$2.5 billion (S$3.4 billion) and US$4 billion. The top birds – Gulfstream’s G650ERs, Bombardier’s Global 6000, Dassault 7X and their ilk – are parked at Seletar Airport; about 60 at last count.

Seletar Airport, which handled 24,000 passengers in 2014, has been coping, but to keep pace with the growth of business aviation, a transformation began four years ago. It was timely because the neighbourhood has evolved into a sleek aerospace park.

It went for a facial first, with the runway lengthened by 231m to 1.84km in 2011 to receive long-range business jets.

The hairdo came next, a new tower with instruments that can help aircraft land and take off in bad weather. It has also ramped up ground-handling services to be on a par with Changi Airport, and added 21 aircraft parking bays to the existing 37 in the last two years. The cleavage and stilettos are coming next year, when a new two-storey terminal is ready. It will have a lounge and separate handling area for private-jet passengers, as well as food and beverage outlets, facilities not available yet.

NEW & IMPROVED

Ng Yeow Meng, MD of Wings Over Asia, likes what he is seeing so far. “There is a very aviation-friendly and creative team running the airport,” says Ng, whose Seletar-based concierge company provides a range of services for private-jet owners. Its new headquarters opens next month. “The extension of the runway, expansion of taxiways and addition of parking bays have all given Seletar a more efficient flow. The basic facilities are coming into place.”

YeowMengSideShot

Wings Over Asia MD, Ng Yeow Meng.

But it is more than just a boost in aesthetics. Yvonne Chan, MD of Universal Aviation, which has an aircraft ground-handling facility in Seletar, says: “Rules and processes are more stringent now, which is a great improvement. Previously, just about anyone can be a handling agent, or get a licence to do maintenance, repair and overhaul work.

“Seletar’s transformation also comes at a time when there are many more private jets in Asia (see the next feature, Cruise Control) and Singapore is a place where many business people want to visit. The new terminal and runway make Seletar more attractive for them to come and this translates into potential business opportunities for us.”

Seletar has the third-largest fleet in Asia after China and Hong Kong, according to business aviation consulting firm Asian Sky Group. Indications are that numbers will grow, even as China slows down after more than doubling its fleet in the last five years.

STAYING AHEAD

But there is room for Seletar to get sexier, if it wants to get ahead of the competition. According to Logan Ravishankar, CEO of business-jet management company My Jet Asia, not all jets embarking on a long-haul journey can take off from the airport all the time.

“It is very technical,” he says. “The hotter the weather gets, the longer the runway these jets need. So if a jet like the Gulfstream 550 is heading for a country like Dubai with a full load of passengers and fuel tank, it can’t take off from Seletar because the runway is short. Many business jets can land at and take off from Seletar, but how far they can fly out of Seletar is the question.”

Seletar’s edge over its rivals in Asia, especially China and Hong Kong, is an aviation ecosystem that is unrivalled. It houses some of the biggest brands in commercial and business aviation, including Pratt & Whitney, Rolls-Royce, Bell Helicopter- Cessna, Airbus Helicopters, Bombardier, ATR, CAE, Fokker Services, Jet Aviation, Hawker Pacific and ST Aerospace.

In February, Minister for Trade and Industry S Iswaran said Singapore is currently the top maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) hub in Asia, contributing to more than 10 per cent of global output. “We are home to one of the most advanced MRO clusters in the region, with over 100 companies providing an array of nose-to-tail MRO capabilities for airframes, engines, components and avionics, as well as aircraft modifications and conversions,” he said at the A*Star Aerospace Technology Leadership Forum.

Despite a sluggish global forecast for business jet sales over the next 10 years, leading makers at the recent Singapore Airshow are upbeat on the future of the industry in the city-state. Gulfstream says it has good customer demand in South-east Asia and Singapore is its top market. Bombardier also says its service centre at Seletar is experiencing impressive growth and expanding its capabilities and capacity.

Chan is more cautious, citing the impending arrival of Malaysia’s commercial turboprop operator, Firefly, which might hinder Seletar’s aspirations to be Asia’s top business aviation hub. “Firefly will be sharing the same terminal. How are they going to manage turboprop and private jets? Who gets priority in terms of landing and taking off? I am not too sure about the future but, at this point, Seletar Airport is working out.”

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