Director of Customer Relations Rita Tam explains how Hong Kong Business Aviation Centre delivers exceptional service with safety and style
In the years immediately following World War II, the reborn airline industry quickly recognised Hong Kong as a natural hub for services into and around Asia. In those terms, little has changed – the territory remains a globally important financial centre, tourist destination and transit stop. As a major force, business aviation was a little late to the party however, with real growth only in the past two decades.
Hong Kong Business Aviation Centre (HKBAC) was established 20 years ago this year, placing it front and centre of the region’s business and VIP aviation services market. Rita Tam, Director of Customer Relations at HKBAC, says: “There’s been tremendous change in the market. With robust economic growth in the Asian region in the past two decades, companies tend to value corporate efficiency and productivity and have really begun to appreciate the time and destination advantages of business aviation, which offers scheduling flexibility and saves time. Demand has grown exponentially in the last 15 years. When I joined HKBAC there were fewer than ten Hong Kong-based aircraft. That number has grown by at least a factor of ten and we’ve had to build two additional hangars, one larger than the other, to meet demand.”
Voted Trailblazer of the Year in the Asian Business Aviation Association (AsBAA) Icons of Aviation Asia Awards last November, Tam came to HKBAC as a customer service representative in 2003. “Before that, I got my first taste of the aviation industry working on check-in at Cathay Pacific Airways. I saw an HKBAC recruitment advert and applied, thinking that business aviation would be a unique and fascinating industry. I was right!”
Back then, HKBAC’s Hong Kong International Airport (HKIA) presence comprised a single hangar and less than 40 staff. Today the facility includes three hangars, a designated apron and executive terminal, none of which Tam considers the Centre’s most important asset. “Over the years we’ve made a huge effort to upgrade our facilities and equipment to deliver superior service to our customers, but most important is the ‘can-do’ spirit that Hong Kong people are known for and which we’ve treasured and nurtured since day one. It’s held in the heart of every HKBAC staff member and underlines everything we do. It’s what allows us to constantly impress customers with the seamless aviation services essential to safety and travelling in style – the hallmarks of HKBAC and Hong Kong.”
Safety is inherent to the HKBAC spirit; it was recognised in the facility’s recent Stage 1 IS‑BAH accreditation. “It’s a clear recognition of our dedication to safety and customer experience, and it encourages to us to keep improving and refining our services in all areas. IS-BAH registration further assures HKBAC’s stakeholders, customers and partners of the company’s safe and efficient operations.
“But we’re still reaching above and beyond mere compliance to provide the exceptional service we’re known for among our stakeholders, and which aligns with the global standard and SMS [safety management systems] requirements of the International Civil Aviation Organization, as well as other operation-critical industries. We’ll continue enhancing our services and safety standards, paving the way to full IS-BAH accreditation.”
In fact, HKBAC is no stranger to recognition, having been voted Best Asian FBO in Professional Pilot’s PRASE survey every year from 2008 to 2018. So what’s the secret to long-term excellence in a dynamic, safety and service conscious industry? “I’d say our secret lies in our long-standing commitment to Safety, Service and Style, ranging from every safe tow we perform, through the array of excellent services we deliver, to our stand-out, highly personalised customer handling style. Our dedicated team grasps every opportunity to offer customers an exceptional travel experience, attending to their needs down to the finest detail.”
“To help us understand our customers’ changing needs, we regularly engage stakeholders through meetings with operators, annual cocktail/lunch gatherings and customer satisfaction surveys, and we listen carefully to their feedback. Several of our improvement initiatives were inspired by customer suggestions, including construction of the additional hangars and the implementation of a 3m aircraft parking plan to enhance apron usage and safety. Our exclusive apron-view crew lounge, in-house remote-bay towing service and the erection of a fuel hydrant at the apron were all direct responses to stakeholder comments.”
Tam says arriving customers need spend no more than 20 minutes in HKBAC’s executive terminal before taking their limousine into the city – although pre-booked boat and helicopter travel are also available. The terminal includes a customs, immigration and quarantine (CIQ) hall, minimising time spent on essential necessities. “HKBAC is the first Asian FBO with on-site CIQ service and the hall is next door to our passenger lounge. Arrival and departure CIQ clearances therefore take only minutes to complete, a key feature of HKBAC and one that demonstrates our efficiency and customer focus.” Otherwise, security is achieved as discretely as possible, with measures including guards positioned outside the terminal and CCTV monitoring the buildings and apron.
The HKBAC service offering includes provision of information and advice, trip planning and assistance with visas and other travel documents. “We work very closely with our operators and crew members to make sure VIPs breeze in and out of the city with only smiles on their faces!” For customers with a little time before their flight, a passenger lounge and VIP rooms are available, the latter providing maximum privacy for meetings.
Outside, HKBAC provides a variety of aircraft line services, including towing, cross runway towing, potable water and lavatory service, ground power unit, aircraft cleaning, air conditioning unit maintenance and more. “They’re all performed by our own dedicated staff or HKIA-approved service providers, under HKBAC supervision.”
Before an aircraft lands in Hong Kong, HKBAC’s dedicated team arranges all requested services, the line service team taking over after landing to ensure the aircraft is safely parked in its designated area once ramp services have been completed. Subsequently, customer service staff are available to pilots and crew 24/7. And when it’s time to depart, “We hand the aircraft back cleaned, serviced and in the best possible condition.”
Crew and pilot comfort and convenience are particular concerns for Tam and the HKBAC team. “If they don’t have time to get to a hotel or just need to quickly freshen up, we have shower rooms and snooze rooms available. There are refreshments, computers, tables and sofas in the crew lounge, for their convenience and comfort while they make their flight preparations and, most importantly, the lounge gives them privacy from their VIP passengers, plus a view over the apron, so they can see when their aircraft is ready for boarding.”
Available trip planning resources include flight plan submission to the Hong Kong Air Traffic Control Tower for flight routing pre-clearance, weather and NOTAMs, while further assistance, primarily for operators and trip planners, is available through HKBAC Connect. “We launched our self-developed online handling request system, HKBAC Connect, in February 2017. It enables our customers to complete flight bookings, place handling requests, make changes and record additional orders on a single platform, around-the-clock, enhancing productivity and reducing the risk of miscommunication. Aircraft status may be checked anytime, anywhere and customers are notified in real-time when a requested service is completed, with the invoice prepared simultaneously.”
On a personal level, HKBAC general manager Madonna Fung was voted AsBAA Icons of Aviation Asia Awards ‘Woman of the Year’ in the 2016 honours. Tam’s own award in 2017 also reflects well on the company operationally, but especially in the opportunity it has given the women to excel in an industry still populated primarily by men. It’s a reality that’s gradually changing, and Tam says: “While it is a fact that apart from cabin crew, men occupy the majority of jobs in the industry, there is no barrier holding girls or young women back from applying for positions. We’re seeing more female colleagues in various fields and jobs, including engineering, supervisory and management.
“We have a very supportive and encouraging culture at HKBAC, with gender equality just one attribute. Every position at HKBAC is open to candidates of either gender and from different backgrounds. The sky, literally, is the limit.”
Still Number One
HKBAC will only maintain its enviable position in Asia through continuous investment in its people, ensuring that while joiners bring fresh enthusiasm and new ideas, they also excel in the company’s safety and service environment. With that in mind, Tam explains: “All new staff receive intensive four-week classroom training covering subjects including operational safety and standard operating procedures. Subsequently, they’re assigned to a supervisor on duty for on-the-job training and coaching.”
Meanwhile, existing staff attend annual refresher courses updating their knowledge on all necessary safety requirements. In addition, when new equipment or procedures are introduced, all staff, including HKBAC’s in-house training personnel, receive training from qualified external instructors.
“There is a Chinese saying: ‘十年樹木, 百年樹人 – It takes a decade to grow a tree, but a century to nurture a person’. HKBAC puts special emphasis on human resources training and planning, since its differentiating advantage is its people. In safety, maintenance or customer service, it’s always people who make the difference.”
With that most important aspect of its future secure, how does Tam see HKBAC expanding and serving the market in years to come? “As Asia’s international aviation hub, Hong Kong serves as a vital gateway to China and a majority of our visitors are travelling intra-Asia. About 90% of flights are travelling within the ASEAN region and China, with the most popular routings to Beijing and Shanghai, the political and financial centres of China. With the ‘Belt and Road initiative’ and recent national strategy of the Guangdong-Hong Kong-Macau Bay Area (the ‘Bay Area’), we expect this trend to grow increasingly strong in the coming years.
“HKBAC is poised to go beyond Hong Kong. We expect continuous positive growth in the business aviation sector, especially in cities and countries yet to be directly connected by commercial airlines and we’re eager to explore and invest in co-operative opportunities with airports and other FBOs.
“Our vision is to strengthen HKBAC into a brand name respected across Asia and especially in mainland China. As a pioneer FBO in the region, HKBAC has continued to raise industry standards. We hope ‘HKBAC’ will become a brand synonymous with the highest service standards, embodied in our commitment to safety, service and style.”