A conversation with Hong Kong-based Metrojet CEO Björn Näf
Q: Metrojet recently signed a joint venture agreement with Taj Air, part of the Tata Group, to establish Taj Air Metrojet Aviation in India. How did this come about and how does the move into India fit with Metrojet’s strategic objectives?
A: There is a longstanding relationship between the owners of Metrojet, the Kadoorie family, and the Tata family who owns Taj Air – a Tata Group company. With the families’ heritage, expertise and passion for aviation, it is a natural and ideal opportunity for a joint venture to be formed.
The Indian market is very different from the markets in Hong Kong and Greater China in terms of needs, culture and environment. But it is certainly an attractive market, with business aviation set to grow strongly over the next decade. With the knowledge and relationships that we have developed in the business aviation field over the past 16 years, it is time for Metrojet to expand our footprint in Asia and to share best practices with industry professionals and partners. We were the first company to start an engineering and maintenance operation specifically for business aviation in Greater China. Along with Taj Air’s local expertise and cultural knowledge, I am confident that we will build the best MRO in India.
Q: Taj Air offers charter services, as do you out of Hong Kong and China, so how will you resolve who does what in the new alliance?
A: In phase one, we are focusing on aircraft maintenance. Aircraft management will come into play in phase two, then aircraft charter to follow. Aircraft maintenance is more technical and sophisticated; hence it is important to develop a strong MRO. We have obtained various qualifications and authority approvals, such as the only Rolls-Royce authorised service centre in Asia for selected engine types, which is a tremendous advantage to us. I’m sure our Indian partner will find our certifications, qualifications and authority approvals to be invaluable to the success of our joint venture.
Q: How many aircraft do you have under management in your own operation?
A: We are currently managing 31 aircraft, which is nearly half of the total number of business jets in Hong Kong. Our clients are mostly Hong Kong-based, but we also have China and overseas-based clients who value the service and quality that Metrojet offers.
Q: How do you rate your competition in Hong Kong?
A: Competition is just a healthy fact of life in all fields of business aviation. It is about managing the challenges associated with growth without sacrificing an iota of quality. Ten years ago there were only a handful of business aviation companies in Hong Kong. Today, I am seeing companies of various sizes aggressively establishing their presence in Asia. However, challenges such as the lack of infrastructure and shortage of talents catering to the rapid demand in business aviation often undermine their efforts. It is also not easy for a newcomer to overtake the heritage and service quality that Metrojet has developed over the course of nearly two decades. The reputation of the Kadoorie brand name already equates to quality and excellence. Our close relationship with our sister company – The Peninsula Hotels – is certainly irreplaceable. Clients have high expectations concerning the services that an operator can offer. It takes a sustained effort to stay in close contact with clients on their expectations and requirements with respect to operating their business jet. From flight operations to maintenance to aircraft management, our team of professionals are well trained to provide expert advice and support. Hence I am very confident that Metrojet will continue to grow and be the leader in the business aviation field in Asia.
Q: China and Asia is still an emerging market as far as business aviation is concerned. How do you rate it against the US market?
A: At the start of 2013 there were perhaps 350 business aviation aircraft in Greater China. By comparison, if the US turned over 5% of its market every year, that would be 700 new aircraft delivered to the market. For Greater China, that would be the equivalent of at least five years of growth. The Asia market for business aviation gets over-hyped a lot by people who do not understand this market. We are very much here for the long haul. We look to increase the value of aircraft with our maintenance and engineering capabilities, and that is a competitive advantage in Asia.
Q: How do you see the future for Metrojet?
A: Our footprint is in Asia. We have developed a network of relationships here – a network of friends – and that positions us at the forefront of supporting a growing industry with highly professional standards. I have been in the airline industry from the cockpit to the board room for a combined of 22 years. I am very confident in our business model – we take the private banking approach – a tailored solution to suit particular needs of particular clients. We also work hard to see that this comes together with an excellent safety management system. The future outlook for Metrojet is very positive. We will continue to deliver service, business and operational excellence, and we will be the best business aviation company in Asia.