Our cover story profiles Jorge Colindres, CEO of the Registry of Aruba
No one says to themselves as they finish their education: “Right, I think I’ll start an aircraft registry!” The path to the public private partnership that has run the Registry of Aruba for the last 20 years is not exactly a straight line for the company’s founding Chairman, Jorge Colindres, but the results have been hugely successful.
The tiny Dutch Caribbean island of Aruba lies 15 miles off the coast of Venezuela and is officially one of the four constituent countries making up the Kingdom of the Netherlands. In his youth as an attaché in service of the Honduras navy, there was nothing much to draw Colindres’ attention to the island.
However, while still a naval attaché, Colindres met a US citizen, Mr Wayne J Hilmer Sr, former Chairman of Omni International Jet Trading Floor, who was to become at one time the largest aircraft broker in the US and a mentor to Colindres. “He asked me if I wanted to learn about aviation while I was still in the navy. So when I retired from the navy as a lieutenant, I went to work for him as an intern in 1991, and later that year we created Honduras Aircraft Registry under Presidential decree,” Colindres recalls.
Colindres then opened International Air Safety Office, which happened to be based at Ocean Reef Club in Key Largo, Florida, a playground of the rich and wealthy in the US. We had just one customer, the legendary US oil tycoon, Oscar Wyatt, founder of the oil refinery specialist, Coastal Corporation, a close friend of Wayne Hilmer. Colindres did all the initial work to register Wyatt’s aircraft in Honduras and later Aruba. The actual management of the aircraft was carried out by Wyatt’s own flight department at Coastal Corporation’s oil refinery in Houston.
Almost immediately Colindres started to get inquiries from several other US aircraft owners, Saudi, Brunei and Qatar Royal Families interested in registering their aircraft in Aruba. Then, as sometimes happens, a chance meeting put the whole matter on a much more formal footing. “In 1992 I happened to be standing next to the Honorable Glenbert F Croes, deputy Prime Minister of Aruba, at the inauguration of the president of Honduras. We started talking and after a bit he asked me if I would be interested in taking over and running the Aruba registry. We discussed the matter and revisited it in more detail on several occasions thereafter. Finally, in 1995, we entered into an agreement with state officials to form and manage the Registry of Aruba,” he recalls.
The Registry itself remains a wholly owned subsidiary of Aviation Registry Group, Ltd a U.S company. Colindres’ company holds a private public partnership contract with the Ministry of Transport in Aruba with a brief to run the Registry on behalf of the Ministry. The Aruba DCA remains part of the Ministry of Transport and is in charge of all regulatory and oversight responsibilities.
“When we won the management contract Aruba had already registered some aircraft but the system was not particularly refined, and the Registry itself was virtually unknown outside the region. We did two things immediately. First, we formalized an approach designed to make Aruba the very best registry. Second, we started talks with all the big aircraft owning corporations, aircraft brokers, banks and leasing companies worldwide, including the major oil companies like Chevron and others,” says Colindres.
Within a few months, the major bank and leasing companies had decided to switch their registration to Aruba. One of the big wins Colindres enjoyed was the decision by Ulick and Desmond McEvaddy, two Irish aviation entrepreneurs with headquarters in Dublin, to switch their fleet of tanker aircraft to the Honduras Registry. The McEvaddy brothers are the founders of Omega Aerial Refueling Services and own heavy jet aircraft all around the world.
Working with BAE Systems and TRACOR, the brothers’ US company, Omega Air, did the engineering analysis to convert a Boeing 707-300 into a tanker capable of refueling every type, model and series tactical aircraft in the US Navy and US Marine Corps inventory. The company has also provided refueling services to the Royal Australian Air Force, the Canadian Air Force and the UK’s Royal Air Force. Having Omega Air register its aircraft with Honduras played its part in helping the Registry of Aruba to raise its profile when it was launched with prospective clients around the world, since we have already established our credibility.
When Colindres took over the Aruba Registry, the DCA had been downgraded by the FAA to a Category 2 Registry. Under the terms of the PPP agreement, Colindres’ goal was to have the Registry upgraded to Category 1 and to ensure that it never got downgraded again. By 1996 he had succeeded in getting the Registry upgraded back by the FAA to Category 1 and from that day, the mission has been to ensure that the Aruba DCA is always compliant with the standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO).
“From 1996 to the present day we have maintained our Category 1 rating and we have passed every audit the Aruba DCA has been put through with flying colors,” he comments.
These audits are anything but a rubber stamping exercise. In an audit the inspectors look to see that the CAA is implementing ICAO standards and recommended practices effectively; that it has the correct operational standards in place and that it is compliant with all the ICAO annexes, namely 1, 2, 6 and 8, etc. There are a number of other things other CAAs like EASA and the FAA look at, since we have become a worldwide player with aircraft based around the world, including compliance with EASA Part NCC and the way the Registry deals with third country operators (TCO).
Colindres cites the case of Air Astana from Kazakhstan, which began operations in 2001 with (3) Boeing B737-700. The airline is a joint venture by the Kazakhstan sovereign wealth fund and BAE Systems. It began flying on domestic routes only, then expanded to Russia and China and to Europe. It’s aircraft, unlike the aircraft of other Kazakhstan airlines, were all registered at Aruba, which, of course, meant that they all underwent the rigorous safety and air-worthiness checks that one expects from a Category One Registry.
This became hugely important when, in April 2009, an ICAO audit of the Kazakhstan Civil Aviation Committee (CAC) found the Kazakhstan CAC to be non-compliant in key areas of regulatory oversight. The result was a decision by the EU’s Air Safety Committee (ASC) to impose a blanket ban preventing all Kazakhstan-registered aircraft from flying to, or within the EU. Air Astana was the only airline exempted from the ban on the grounds that its aircraft were under the oversight of the Aruba Registry, with its excellent record.
There were initially some complexities and restrictions. The ASC limited Air Astana’s ability to expand and only gave clearance to its Boeing and Airbus aircraft, not to its Embraer regional jets. However, by April 2014 the “no expansion” clause had been lifted, and in December 2015 the block on Air Astana using its Embraer aircraft for flights to and within Europe was also removed. All Air Astana aircraft are now allowed to operate in EU airspace.
“This was a real feather in our cap and demonstrated in the most clear-cut fashion to the world at large that the Registry of Aruba operates to the highest standards,” Colindres affirms. The Air Astana success confirmed the Registry of Aruba’s status as the place to go for airlines looking to outsource aircraft registration away from their own CAA or local registry.
A major reason for the high reputation enjoyed by the Registry, Colindres adds, is the effort it puts into recruiting highly experienced air-worthiness inspectors. “We have become one of the largest companies hiring retiring inspectors from leading aviation authorities around the world,” including ex-ICAO experts he notes. Some 50% of the Registry’s inspectors are ex-UK CAA which, in turn, make us a safety oversight compliance organization.
“We have a policy of hiring inspectors who have at least 20 years of experience working for their respective CAA’s. They have a tremendous wealth of knowledge to draw on and that enables us to provide a very high standard of service.”
“We have the former deputy Chief Surveyor for UK CAA, David Lewis, consulting for us, including former UK CAA Heathrow airport manager and the ICAO expert-in charge of developing the UAE CAA. Plus, we have inspectors from the US FAA, German, Dutch, Portuguese, FOCA and Australian CAAs, giving us world-wide coverage. Our inspectors fly to the client’s site wherever he/she is located. Our unique business model is to ensure that our services are tailored to the client’s requirements, whilst ensuring that we maintain the high quality standards demanded by ICAO,” Colindres says.
The Registry guarantees on-site inspectors for its within four hours of a request. This short lead time is possible because the Registry has inspectors located in multiple venues around the world.
“Say you have an aircraft going into Jet Aviation Basel for maintenance. We have an inspector whose normal place of residence is Geneva, so there is minimal travel time. With other registries, the client could find themselves wasting two or three days flying the aircraft to the Registry’s location in order for the mandatory pre-registration inspections to be carried out. Or perhaps the Registry would send inspectors out from their location to the client’s site, but that still involves considerable delay in travel time. Our model provides the kind of fast turnaround that clients really appreciate,” he comments.
The Registry is officially able to audit and certify both private and commercial jets as well as turbine helicopters. “We were the first Registry to take on commercial airlines, sometime before either Bermuda or the Caymans. As such, we have played a vital role in being the launch Registry of many important airlines, including Qatar Airways, Air Astana, Qzak Air, Somon Air (the Tajikistan airline) and Comlux Aruba, and in the process of certification is BestFly Worldwide. We have some truly excellent success stories to tell,” he proudly adds. The Registry of Aruba is also known to tackle very creative projects, such as the certification of the largest VVIP wide body aircraft for commercial ops a Boeing B767-200 for Comlux and the launch Registry for the Boeing B777-200 LR as the first VVIP aircraft flying casino in the world for Crystal Cruises, a subsidiary of Genting Group.
These successes include a number of airlines that have come and gone, including Southern Winds Airline in Argentina, the Armenian airline, Armavia, AeroContinente from Peru and Air Aruba.
“Aruba is one of the only countries, along with Ireland and Canada, that has aircraft operating within the US. Three years ago it became possible to have Aruba registered aircraft flying domestically in the US on a US operators’ AOC. The beauty of that is because we are a Category-1 rated CAA; we have an air service bilateral with the US with respect to Aruba for most of all Freedom of the Air, and US pre-clearance for commercial and private flights that says that if you fly an aircraft from Aruba to the US, that counts as a domestic flight. This means that you can fly to primary, secondary or tertiary airports and it opens up vastly more destinations without the need for additional entry formalities,” We also have international 83bis and maintenance equivalency agreement with the US, Russia, Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, UAE and Singapore,” Colindres explains.
The registry also has tremendous local advantages. As a constituent, self-governing state of the Netherlands, Aruba is classed as an overseas territory of the European Union. Its legal system is based on EU legislation. This, along with a very stable government, means that it is respected worldwide.
“The Court of First Instance is based here in Aruba and the Appeal Court is based in Curaçao, with appeals to the Supreme Court in the Hague. This makes it a very good, solid jurisdiction, plus Aruba is White Listed by the OECD which adds to its appeal.”
It is hard to overestimate the importance to the Registry of its “go anywhere” business model. “Wherever there is a green delivery of an aircraft to a completions center, we will send our inspectors there to do both a physical inspection of the aircraft and the related documents.”
“When ICAO enacted the Cape Town Convention, we were the first offshore registry to ratify that convention. A lot of countries have now ratified it but we were the initiators, and that is another first that we are proud of,” Colindres beams.
As a big fan of technology and automation, he has made it a priority to do as much as possible on-line. The Registry has an online Aircraft Registry Management System (ARMS), and every critical document for every aircraft is managed in the database.
We were doing things so different, that the Registry of Aruba was even featured in the AVENGER, a novel by Frederick Forsyth, #1 New York Times bestselling author, Colindres recalls.
The outstanding record of the Registry was the deciding factor in winning a second Registry for the company. “When San Marino was looking in 2007 for a partner to outsource their registry to we were their first choice. They came and spoke to us and looked at how we did things and in 2012 they awarded us the contract to run the San Marino Aircraft Registry,” (SMAR.aero) he notes.
The San Marino operation had its formal launch at MEBA 2012, in Dubai. “I appointed my eldest son, David Colindres, to head up SMAR since he has been with Aruba for over 12 years and understood my vision and business model well. It was an absolute start-up when we launched and now, just three years later, it is one of the premium players in the aviation sector.” It just boasts the honor of being recognized by ICAO on the 27 of September 2016 during its 39 general assembly with the Presidents Council Award for having achieved one of the world highest effective implementation of ICAOs Standards during the 2015 audit to San Marino CAA.
“That is why a state never manages to compete successfully against private enterprise. The UK CAA was the first authority to become private. They became very efficient as a consequence and rapidly set the standard for all the other CAAs around the world. That is one of the main reasons why we are so keen to recruit retiring UK CAA inspectors,” Colindres comments.
One of the keys to the success of both registries has been the fact that the management companies responsible for operating them are not government owned entities. “As a private operation we do not have to wait for government budgets to enable us to do something. If we see something the industry demands, we are free to innovate to meet that demand. The other registries are all government owned and that significantly restricts their freedom to develop services, even if they offer and deliver quality services but lack the things that makes Aviation Registry Group of companies different. We do not focus on fast turnaround, rather on offering our clients personalized solutions with a boutique appeal” As Wayne Hilmer Sr. used to say, “ Chief, there other companies out there doing the same thing, but not in the same way like us” and that has proudly been my business model for all my Aircraft Registries from the first day, Colindres concludes.