Often when a company is taken over, it doesn’t take long for the new and old management begin to disagree on the direction it should be taking.
So when Business Aviation Asia (BAA) was bought out by Minsheng International Jet in 2014, it didn’t take long for tensions to surface. Business aviation in China was suffering at the time, thanks to an anti-corruption drive by the government, and Minsheng saw BAA as a way of spreading its risk outside of the Chinese mainland.
But by November 2016, chairman Chang Qiu Sheng had parted company with the business. By January 2017, his management team had followed him.
With Chang and the rest of the team free from BAA, the decision to set up Amber Aviation came relatively quickly.
Vicky Tsui, the former director of sales and marketing for BAA and now the vice president of sales and marketing/customer service at Amber Aviation, says that, when she left, there wasn’t a plan in place to start a new company. “When BAA decided to let go of our chairman Mr Chang last November, all of our management decided to follow him. All of us have loyalty to Mr Chang, so there was no question that, of course, we would follow him.”
Chang’s business aviation pedigree goes back as far as 2003, when he was made the assistant general manager of Air China’s business jet unit. Prior to that, he was the deputy director of Air China’s VVIP department.
Chang had really made his name by being involved in bringing the first Gulfstream IV onto the Chinese mainland, paving the way for Gulfstream’s dominance in the large cabin sector. That first Gulfstream delivery to Air China’s business jet unit gave Chang inside knowledge about all of the documentation and process that a company would have to go through to bring a new aircraft type to the mainland, leaving him hungry to learn more and be a deeper part of the development of business aviation in the region.
The opportunity to set up his own company was presented on a silver platter. During a meeting with a business associate who was selling an aircraft into Hong Kong, the buyer suggested that he set up his own business jet management company.
With the help of several outside investors, Chang set up BAA in Shenzhen in 2005. The southern Chinese city was an ideal location for the new company.
Shenzhen is home to many technology companies and has a population of 12 million. But it is its physical location that made it ideal. Sitting on the edge of the Pearl River Delta, it shares a border with Hong Kong to the east and is less than 100 miles from Guangzhou to the northwest – both cities with large populations. Guangzhou is the third largest city in China, with a population just of just over 20 million. Hong Kong, a special administrative region of China, added a further 7.5 million inhabitants to the potential catchment area.
The experience that Chang and the rest of his team had through their time at BAA convinced them that they could start a new company, and run it their way, free from owners with differing visions.
With the backing of Hony Capital, the investment division of Chinese electronics manufacturer Lenovo – which knew Chang and the team through joint investments in NetJets China – Amber Aviation was set up in February 2017, and officially launched in April. The official launch came during the Asian Business Aviation Conference & Exhibition (ABACE) in Shanghai.
Naming the company turned out to be quite straightforward, and fits in with how the company came into being. Amber is a fossilised tree resin that naturally forms over time. When Chang spoke about starting a new business, it was an easy decision for the BAA team to move with him, naturally forming the new company.
Less than six months after being formed, Amber Aviation was granted its Air Operator’s Certificate (AOC), as the management is highly recognised by the CAAC.
As well as offering business jet management, Amber Aviation offers consulting services for new companies trying to set up their own AOC. This came about because the company saw an increased level of sophistication and understanding among aircraft owners, who often want to manage an aircraft themselves.
Shortly after Amber’s official launch, the first aircraft, a mainland-operated Falcon 900LX, was added under the Amber Aviation management brand. A second aircraft, based in Hong Kong, followed shortly afterwards, and a third aircraft was recently added in Macau. Tsui says that the target is to have six aircraft under management by the end of the year and 15 by the end of 2018. “We are quite happy with our development until now,” she said.
To support the growing number of managed aircraft, the Amber Aviation team has grown quickly to include just over 50 people. The company’s sales, marketing, finance and customer support teams are all based in Hong Kong, while the maintenance and operations teams are based in Shenzhen. Smaller offices support operations in Beijing, Macau and Shanghai.
The setting up of Amber Aviation seems to have come about at just the right time. Business aviation in China has suffered over the course of the last few years but confidence has begun to return, albeit cautiously.
“Things are getting better. You can see a lot of things going on now, with new aircraft and preowned aircraft, even with charter activity, it’s much better than last year,” says Tsui. “Last year was very quiet.”