Flying high in a niche business

While WingsOverAsia is a "country club" for high net worth aficionados, it is also a one-stop shop for aircraft services.

ON THE SURFACE, WingsOverAsia Pte Ltd looks like what its managing director Ng Yeow Meng describes as a "country club for aviation enthusiasts". The firm's Seletar Airport site - which it moved into just over a year ago - contains several nicely decorated rooms which are used for social events and meetings.

It even has a private membership club which gives members priority access to a number of WingsOverAsia's facilities such as the VIP room with a balcony overlooking the Seletar Airport runway, as well as preferential rates for flight support and aircraft care services.

But behind the scenes, the firm is also heavily invested in engineering and aircraft maintenance roles. It offers a wide array of services, from aircraft groundhandling and maintenance services, aircraft sales and pilot proficiency programmes apart from its lifestyle services, which is why Mr Ng describes WingsOverAsia as a "one stop shop for all aviation needs".

The firm mainly serves high net worth and other wealthy individuals who are passionate aviation enthusiasts and aircraft owners. The firm focuses on building extensive service capabilities and increasing its knowledge base to maintain, operate, and service aircrafts which clients use to make international flights.

Global connections

Since WingsOverAsia owns no aircraft of its own, it does not engage in chartered flights. "We are currently not a licensed charter aircraft operator. But for those who own their own aircraft, we can settle everything else for them - from worldwide flight coordination, to local ground handling and maintenance, to even hospitality arrangements at their destination if the need arises."

As is the nature of aviation service firms, WingsOverAsia has never been a truly "local" company from the get-go, Mr Ng said, with his customers coming from many countries right from the firm's inception.

Mr Ng said there were regulatory hurdles the firm had to cross when working and expanding internationally, and added that working with other airports in other countries is one of the main ways for the firm to grow its services. WingsOverAsia does not own many sites in multiple countries, opting instead to work with foreign airports to manage international flights.

Speaking on how Mr Ng founded WingsOverAsia, he said: "Actually, I didn't intend to found a company. I have always had a keen interest in aviation, having started an aviation blog in 2004. It was through this blog that I built up my network of aviation enthusiasts. As my blog grew, I began to realise that there was a need among aircraft enthusiasts in the region that was unmet.

"Five years later in 2009, with this network of contacts, I eventually decided to provide logistical and engineering support, which was how my company was founded."

Today, the firm is housed at Seletar and has 72,000 sq ft of purpose built hangar space housing about 20 aircraft of different sizes for a number of clients. The aircraft types range from light piston propeller aircraft to turboprops and jet turbine.

The hangars are at present almost fully occupied, and Mr Ng admits that procuring more space is one of the challenges that the firm faces.

WingsOverAsia focuses on quite a niche segment within the general aircraft market. While other firms serve large business jets and airliners, Mr Ng says his firm handles aircraft of all sizes - including aircraft in the small to mid-sized range.

When asked what the company's core business is, Mr Ng said that it has a "more or less balanced" revenue stream between its three arms focusing on membership and lifestyle services, flight support and groundhandling, as well as aircraft sales.

He explained that although these three aspects were different from one another, they complement each other well. Mr Ng explained: "It's like selling cars - you can't only sell cars without also offering maintenance and repair services as well.

"Because we offer engineering and flight support services, our clients will have the confidence to know that if they buy a plane from us, we can take care of it for them as we possess the professional capabilities to support a safe and efficient aviation lifestyle."

Mr Ng said the firm runs very lean, having a head count of more than 20 staff at present. While the staff strength may seen small, Mr Ng said the 20-odd staff he hires have depth of knowledge when it comes to aviation expertise.

The firm also tends not to sub-contract or outsource engineering works wherever possible, doing about 70 to 80 per cent of the servicing and engineering works in-house. "Our staff have great depth of knowledge, and are subject matter experts when it comes to aviation. They are not generalists. It is more about quality rather than quantity when it comes to manpower."

That said, Mr Ng plans to increase the number of staff to 40 by the end of next year to cope with the increasing demand for aviation services.

Asked if he experienced problems finding suitable employees, he said: "We don't have a problem finding CVs to look at. Where we have problems is in finding people who are well qualified in relevant engineering and service expertise."

The firm has a yearly revenue figure of about S$4 million, and about half of its customers are Singaporeans, with the other half coming from neighbouring countries such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.

Mr Ng cited new markets such as China, and existing ones such as Indonesia and Thailand as sources of growth for the firm. However, he cited constraints including scarcity of land for hanger space, and regulatory hurdles he would have to cross to expand as different countries would have different regulatory concerns.

As to whether or not WingsOverAsia would partner foreign airports or set up its own sites in other countries, Mr Ng did not give specifics but said he would be looking at which option would be more cost-effective.