Chris Barrow, director of flight operations at the Hong Kong Business Aviation Centre (HKBAC), said Hong Kong may soon be free of the quarantine situation that has hampered it for the past two years. AINAs evidence of the city’s recent progress, he cited the government’s recent announcement on easing restrictions on movement.
From October 4th, the Hong Kong government has revised the designation conditions for flight crews and no longer involves restrictions on non-local crew members. On September 23, it was announced that the compulsory quarantine requirement for incoming passengers would be lifted from September 26 and replaced by a three-day compulsory medical surveillance.
Once all restrictions are lifted, Barrow believes business will resume quickly. “As a city, Hong Kong is a really good international base for people trying to get into China — or even all of Asia,” he said. “Globally, Hong Kong is known to have faced strict quarantine regulations for the past few years and is even continuing. During that time, our aircraft movements were quite low, mainly due to the process of actually entering Hong Kong.”
At times, the city is closed to tourists and only accessible to Hong Kong residents; many of them did not have time for quarantine, which at the height of the pandemic lasted as long as three weeks. In the past six months, the quarantine period has been reduced to seven days, then three days.
Until recently, quarantined hotels facing room capacity constraints restricted people from flying due to the need to book hotel rooms, which have become increasingly difficult due to the volume involved and the scarcity of available rooms. “These types of restrictions affect our business and most businesses in Hong Kong,” Barrow noted. “If restrictions start to ease a little bit, it will be easier to travel.”
Barrow is confident that in the coming months and weeks, passengers and crew will be able to disembark in the HKBAC lounge, which was previously not permitted by quarantine rules. “We’re starting to look at how we can get back to normal and make sure our operations can handle this,” he said.
At the height of the pandemic, many Hong Kong planes were parked, sold or relocated. Some moved to China to operate domestically because the market was still available, while others took the opportunity to regain a foothold in the U.S. and perform maintenance tasks during downtime. “Ultimately, once they can travel freely, it will be more convenient for them to stay in Hong Kong,” Barrow said.
Growing up in the Greater Bay Area market in China
The Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macao Greater Bay Area, with a population of more than 70 million, consists of nine cities and two special administrative regions, and is the main driver of China’s economy. The region sees itself as a rival to the metropolises of New York City, Tokyo and San Francisco.
“The Greater Bay Area is the next growth market and we are in a prime position to be able to handle it [it],” Barrow said. “The forecast is that it’s going to be bigger than some of the U.S. regions, and we’re still focused on how we operate and how we connect to those specific regions. One area of focus is cross-border helicopters to ensure faster and smoother travel. “
Hong Kong International Airport has also invested in a three-runway system. A third runway is now open for use, allowing the airport to continue as a dual runway system until around 2025, while upgrading the central runway. Historically, business aviation slots in Hong Kong have been hard to come by, and the three-runway system will more easily surpass previous capacity.
“We are currently working on a $400 million investment and we have reached an agreement with the Airport Authority Hong Kong in April 2021,” he said. “This will give us more lounges, more space, a new Customs, immigration and quarantine hall areas, and all the types of things our passengers are saying, make us more dynamic to expedite access to some of the facilities that are common around the world.”
HKBAC opened in 1998 when Hong Kong International Airport was moved from Kai Tak Airport to Chek Lap Kok. Five operators provide aircraft management, charter and maintenance services under HKBAC: Jet Aviation, Hongkong Jet, Metrojet, TAG Aviation and HK Belllawings Jet. HKBAC’s three hangars can accommodate BBJ or ACJ sized aircraft. Depending on the size, there is room for about 13 or 14 aircraft inside.
“The trend is towards bigger aircraft [such as] New Gulfstream and Bombardier Universal,” Barrow reported. “We currently have no plans to increase hangar space, but we do plan to increase our facilities to make it easier for our customers to pass through. “
Mainland opportunities are also important to the future development of the Hong Kong Chamber of Commerce, and although there are dialogues with certain parts of China, no formal agreement has been reached on the establishment of the so-called “Hong Kong Chamber of Commerce China”. The settings are usually different from Hong Kong, depending on the airport involved.
“We are certainly interested in expanding into China,” Barrow concluded. “It would be an ideal situation, but it is not necessarily easy to enter that market. Of course, most companies are interested in setting up an FBO location in China. At HKBAC, we would certainly like to do that.”