Business jets take over Subic airport

OLONGAPO CITY–Twenty years after the last American fighter jet took off, a new breed of jets has taken over the runway and hangars of the Subic Bay International Airport—business jets.
“This is what we want to see. Our airport as a bustling hub for general aviation,” says Subic Bay Metropolitan Authority (SBMA) chairman Robert Garcia.
The former US military base turned industrial-commercial complex turned 20-years-old last November 24. And Garcia believes that its development is right on track.
“I will go very strongly into general aviation, which includes jet charters, flight training schools,” he stressed, adding that logistical services, aircraft refurbishing and repair are the ideal businesses for the international airport.
With more than US$8 billion dollars in foreign investment, Subic Bay is the country’s top attraction in the foreign investment community.
Leading the pack in this mixed commercial and military thrust is Aviation Concepts, a jet charter firm, whose clients are as diverse as their fleet of commercial fixed wing aircraft.
“Most of our clients are in Asia. They are the corporate executives who need to shuffle from place to place quickly, efficiently, and comfortably,” says Joel Edmondson, Aviation Concepts general manager.
Edmondson witnessed the airport’s ups and downs. A Subic Bay-based US Navy pilot for 26 years, he led Federal Express’ team as chief pilot until the courier giant decided its business was better off in China.
Still, Edmondson might hear the familiar sound of fighter jets alongside his more subdued planes.
“Because of national defense considerations, we would have to operate it as a mixed use area,” Garcia explained, “meaning it might be used as a jump-off point for fighter squadrons, side-by-side with commercial jet charters.”
Just recently, the US Navy leased portions of the Airport terminal to support its troops participating in the joint American-Filipino military exercises.
Huge potential
Aviation Concepts, so far the only non-flight school locator, fits comfortably with the SBMA plan, says Garcia.
“Malaking negosyo ‘yan (Business charter is a huge business), so, that will provide a strong commercial component for the airport,” Garcia added.
Globally, the charter industry is worth about US15 billion and is growing significantly.
The industry is forecasting nearly 10,000 new business jet deliveries worth about $250 billion from 2012 to 2022. Some 700 jet planes will be delivered to buyers this year.
The Asia Pacific region grew at double digit rates throughout the past five years.
And SBMA, together with Aviation Concepts, are preparing to catch some of the business.
“We support SBMA by working with groups to get the message out that Subic Bay is the best place to invest in,” Edmondson said, noting that companies have room to grow in this 200 hectare facility.
Operating out of a former Fedex hangar, the firm manages seven jets and employs 51 workers, including six American pilots.
“Mostly, we fly throughout Asia. We fly to other parts of the world, but our aircrafts are based here,” Edmondson explains, stressing that his company is in Subic for the long term.
Loving Subic Bay
Like Edmondson, many of their workers are former employees of Fedex.
Emma Bonsa, the company’s facilities supervisor and executive secretary to the President and CEO, says she is lucky.
She says the pay is higher and the company takes care of its employees like family members.
“There are no sirs’ and madams’ here because we are all worthy of the same respect. We call our president by his first name,” Bonsa says. But her most memorable experience was when her home was flooded by strong monsoon rains.
“Everyone affected was asked how the company can help. Afterwards, we were given financial help to tide us over our crisis. This is the first time I experienced such care from an employer, and it one that I treasure very much” she added.
Luisa Patagan, operations improvement manager and another Fedex veteran, says that everyone receives 100 dollars for every year of service.
“During our anniversary, the president gives us US$100 dollars for every year of service. So if you have worked for two years, you get US$200 dollars,” she says.
But her biggest kick comes from providing their client with quality service.
“We meet a lot of people and you really don’t know what to expect. And surpassing our clients’ expectation gives me the boost to get up the next day,” Patagan declares.
For all three, the best come-on is Subic Bay.
The place is beautiful, and to them “every work day is a vacation.”
“No traffic. No pollution. Seaside. What else can you ask for?” Bonsa stressed.
Bright future
Since the US military withdrew in 1991, employment has tripled inside the former base, from 30,000 to almost 90,000. There are more than 1,500 firms inside the Freeport, ranging from manufacturing, tourism, logistics, and retail.
The Freeport also holds the distinction of hosting the country’s biggest single investment— South Korean shipbuilding giant Hanjin Heavy Industries Corporation.
“Hanjin employs 20,000 workers and exports a billion dollars worth of ships. Because of them, the Philippines is now the 4th largest shipbuilder in the world,” Garcia said, pointing outside his window, beaming with pride.
“I want Subic to be the tide that lifts the communities around us. And in partnership with these kinds of businesses, I know that we can double, even triple our economic strength,” Garcia pointed out. ●

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