8 Tips for Aircraft Ground Handling and Fueling in China
This business aviation blog post is part of a series on operating to China and continues from our last post titled: 10 Must-Knows About Airport Operations and Customs When Flying into China.
In China, ground handling and aviation fuel services are usually high-quality, particularly at major destinations. With steady increases of business aviation activity to China and a growing locally based fleet, recent investments have been made in support of infrastructure. Aviation fuel credit can now be arranged across the country. Just a few years ago, there were no Fixed Based Operators (FBOs) or General Aviation Terminals (GATs) in China, but now there are several. Many of these FBOs and GATs may have the appearance of an airline terminal, but services are generally excellent. We expect to see continued improvement in General Aviation (GA) infrastructure.
1. Work with a qualified aircraft ground handler
Proper advanced planning – and working with an experienced 3rd-party provider and local ground handler– will ensure a successful operation to China. Keep in mind that without proper ground handling arrangements, there can be problems, including delayed fuel or lavatory service, missed ground transportation or incorrect in-flight catering orders. Errors may occur on the ramp in terms of ground handling performed by personnel who are more accustomed to scheduled commercial airlines. A local agent will take care of all the requirements for you and, most importantly, will have a working relationship with the authorities to expedite service as much as possible in compliance with the laws and regulations of that location.
2. Be aware that each airport system in China is different
You’ll find different procedures on arrival and departure from airport to airport. Customs, Immigration and Quarantine (CIQ) procedures may be different from what you’re used to in other regions. For example, you may experience delays with clearing CIQ at certain airports.
How passengers get in and out of the airport will vary from one location to another. At major cities – such as Shanghai (ZSSS and ZSPD) and Beijing (ZBAA) – passengers may have the luxury of going through an FBO. However, in more remote locations, you’ll use a VIP lounge or go through the GAT.
Most traffic to China goes into either Beijing (ZBAA) or Shanghai (ZSSS and ZSPD). There are operating regulations to keep in mind when traveling to Shanghai (ZSSS and ZSPD). If you’re traveling to or from Shanghai to or from the east or northeast (or to or from Japan), you’ll almost always be required to use Pudong, Shanghai (ZSPD) due to airspace conflicts. Hongqioa, Shanghai (ZSSS) has an FBO. However, it’s not always usable, as access to ZSSS will depend on your itinerary. This is an area about which many operators have been uncertain. Understanding certain characteristics such as this is another important reason to use an experienced 3rd-party provider.
3. Pre-plan jet fuel uplifts
Most airports in China do not accept major credit cards. You must either have pre-arranged contract fuel or pay cash. On-the-spot cash payments without pre-arrangement usually result in higher prices. However, fuel credit is available at about 98% of the airports in the country, and, with proper prior notice, cash payment is generally not necessary. At smaller locations, it’s often a good idea to carry a printed fuel release request. Pre-arranging jet fuel delivery is not usually an issue. However, fuel trucks may be busy with airlines during peak hours, particularly at smaller locations.
4. Self-handling in China isn’t recommended
At most airports in China, you do not have the option to self-handle and you will not be able to obtain required services (fuel uplift, lavatory service etc.). While ground handling and infrastructure in China continue to get better (the ground handling process in general has become very streamlined in most airports), there are language barriers, credit issues and airport protocols to consider. We recommend using an experienced ground handler who can confirm everything (aviation fuel uploads, flight plan details and upcoming slots) 24 hours in advance of your next flight leg.
5. Anticipate that FBOs and GATs may be different from what you’re accustomed to
An FBO or GAT in China may appear more like an airline terminal than an FBO. However, support infrastructure and access are improving rapidly within China. In the recent past, full-service FBOs opened at Shenzhen (ZGSZ) and Shanghai (ZSSS). We anticipate the inauguration of additional FBOs, GATs, VIP areas and in-terminal corporate aviation handling facilities in the near future at many different airports throughout China.
6. Access to your aircraft while in China may not be an easy process
Once you’ve parked your aircraft, and passengers and crew have cleared CIQ, the process of returning to your aircraft – pre-departure date – may be time-consuming. At most airports on the mainland, you may spend more time and incur additional charges arranging security and customs clearance to gain access to your aircraft. For this reason, we recommend arrangements be made in advance.
Keep in mind that aircraft maintenance on the ramp – as well as aircraft-on-ground situations – can be problematic in China. You may have to reposition a mechanic from Singapore (WSSS or WSSL) or Hong Kong (VHHH), as few qualified and certified maintenance personnel are available within China to support corporate-sized aircraft.
7. Take extra planning steps for winter operations to northern China
Be aware that transient hangar space is almost non-existent in China. ZSSS is one of the only airports with hangar space that may be available to transient aircraft. During winter operations to northern China, plan on sufficient time for de-icing and carry Prist aviation fuel additive if you require it. De-ice trucks are often not reliable – even in Beijing – as they typically service airlines first.
8. Consider China as a fuel tech stop
Some operators use China as a fuel tech stop. No visas are required, one crew member is allowed to deplane to assist with fueling, and turn time is typically about an hour, as long as everything has been arranged ahead of time. We recommend having your local agent confirm the fuel truck ahead of time. Problems with jet fuel shortages and quality are very rare in China. While jet fuel prices in China have increased over the past few years, costs are still reasonable.
Please keep in mind that not all airports in China accept aircraft for fuel tech stops, and some airports have strict slot regulations as to the number of GA movements permitted. Working with an experienced 3rd-party provider is advisable to ensure you have all the information you need.
If you have any questions about this article or would like assistance planning your next trip to China, contact Christine Vamvakas firstname.lastname@example.org.
Later we will discuss securing security and in-flight catering in China.