Singapore has always been a nexus. In medieval times, the 40-mile-long island at the tip of the Malay Peninsula was a crossroads for trade, a meeting place of Arab, Chinese, Indian, Malay, Sumatran and other cultures, strategically located to funnel east-west movements through a narrow corridor.

When the British Empire sent a gunboat to Singapore in 1819, seeking - and gaining - a strategic foothold in the region, Singapore was a sultanate. Singapore remained under British rule until World War II, when the Japanese Army defeated a botched British defense and occupied the island, remaining there and ruling harshly throughout the war. Back in British hands after the Japanese surrender, Singapore's indigenous politicians began a process of gradually pulling away from the British Commonwealth, becoming an internally self-governing state following elections in 1959, declaring itself independent of Britain in 1963, and renaming itself the Republic of Singapore in 1965.

Modern Singapore is as much the creation of one man, Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, who led the country with an iron hand for 30 years, as it is a work in progress. Keeping Singapore fiercely nonaligned, militarily strong, nearly crime-free (through strict administration of an unforgiving legal code based on corporal and capital punishment), and relatively unregulated for business, Lee was able to galvanize an obedient workforce into creating one of the highest standards of living in the world. Today, the sinews of international business flow through Singapore. Signifying the enduring importance of trade to its economy, Singapore currently boasts the highest trade-to-GDP ratio on the planet. The country attracts considerable foreign direct investment due to its corruption-free business climate, low tax rates, advanced infrastructure and geographic location. Evidence of the business-friendly climate is the 10,000 multinational companies from the U.S., Europe, Japan, China and India that have established operations in Singapore. The Republic's GDP in 2010 was SG$292 billion, for a per capita rate of SG$62,100.

The Republic of Singapore is actually an archipelago of 63 islands situated 83 sm north of the equator. Its multi-racial and -ethnic population numbers 5,183,700 people, of whom only 3,257,000 are citizens. Area of the main island is 687 sq. km. (265 sq. mi.).

Aviation in Transition

The aviation environment in Singapore is undergoing a major transition, as the government is committed to transforming itself into a major repair and overhaul (MRO) center. Over a two-year period, considerable construction has been devoted to infrastructure at Singapore's two principal civil airports, Changi and Seletar, including new hangars and parking stands, to support maintenance providers and OEM parts distribution facilities. This effort has included a 500-ft. extension of the single runway at Seletar.

All this bodes well for business aviation, and each airport offers its own attractions:

Singapore Changi International Airport (WSSS). Changi is a dual-use field shared with the Singapore Air Force. (In addition to the two civil airports, there are several dedicated military air bases on the island.) Changi has three parallel runways, one of which - 2R/20L - is confined to military operations. The two assigned to civil aircraft are 2L/20R and 2C/20C, both measuring 13,120 ft. Runway 2L/20R is equipped with dual ILSes; 2C/20C does not have approach aids. Field elevation is 22 ft. From Jan 1, 2012, slots will apply at Changi, 24/7. Have your handler obtain slots.

The government is promoting Seletar over Changi for business aviation, as corporate jets in Changi have contributed to a congestion problem there in terms of parking. Originally, a “business aviation center” existed at Changi, but with the new aviation initiative, this was shut down and replaced by Jet Quay, a landlord providing CIQ (customs, immigration and quarantine) and ground handling (it is not an exclusive facility for one FBO company but is used by local handlers) that serves as a one-stop center for clearing; the facility includes “a very fine lounge,” according to locals.

After passengers disembark the aircraft, it is towed to remote parking in the Static Aircraft Display Area (or SADA, part of the former Asian Aerospace air show complex), a temporary arrangement, as parking is at a premium at Changi because of the large number of unused airliners being stored around the field, most in Singapore Airlines livery. Three to 5 hr. prior to departure, the aircraft is towed back to a departure bay, where the passengers will be delivered by ground transportation when the aircraft is ready to be boarded. From Changi, it is 17.2-km drive to Singapore's downtown hotel complex.

Seletar Airport (WSSL) was dual-use civil/military until 1995 and currently is devoted mostly to general aviation with some regional airline activity. It has a single runway, 3/21, measuring 6,023 ft. (since the 500-ft. extension completed last year). Although the government has promoted Seletar for business aviation, its runway length will not accommodate departures of fully loaded large intercontinental business jets, which must reposition to Changi for fueling and departure. On the first Friday of every month between 1600Z to 2300Z, the runway is closed for maintenance. Field elevation is 45 ft. No slots are required at Seletar.

Seletar has no approach aids and is thus confined to visual approaches, a major disadvantage to operating there. Avoid early evening arrivals due to year-round thunderstorms; night approaches are not recommended. If there are visibility issues, aircraft are diverted to Changi by ATC. As the natives say, there are two seasons in Singapore: sunny and rainy.

There are three FBOs at Seletar: Jet Aviation, Hawker Pacific and Universal; however, the FBO lounges are land-side and not accessible from the ramp. Thus, arriving passengers and crew must be driven to a passenger terminal for customs and baggage clearance. From Seletar, the downtown area is a 15-km drive taking about 25 min.

There are advantages and disadvantages to operating at both airports, according to Jet Aviation Singapore duty manager Faizal Kahn. “For example, there are no business aircraft maintenance facilities at Changi; on the other hand, there are MRO facilities for airline type aircraft like the BBJ at Changi,” he pointed out. “In the future, there will be an expanded parking area at Seletar for business jets, and there is talk of building a business aviation center like Jet Quay with a large lounge and in-house customs. At Changi, the emphasis will be on creating more parking for airline aircraft.”

Singapore's altimetry system is QNH, measured in feet; the country is both WGS 84- and RVSM-compliant. ICAO procedures are employed by ATC. There is a Stage 2 ban at Singapore's airports; hushed aircraft are permitted as long as they meet Stage 3 noise limits.

A Perfect Society - For a Price

According to old Singapore hand Walter Taylor at Jeppesen's San Jose, Calif.-based flight planning service, no visas are required for citizens of the U.S. and the majority of European countries for entry into Singapore. “No permits are required for [FAR] Part 91 operations, either; however, notification of arrival is necessary for statistical reasons - your handler will take care of that,” Taylor said. “Going into Changi, you need a 'PPR' [prior permission required] for parking. Part 135 is more difficult because the CAAS [Civil Aviation Administration of Singapore] wants to know who is chartering, the charter agreement and price, and the technical specs of the aircraft to show that it is complaint with commercial operation rules.”

The success of Lee Kuan Yew's gamble on free market economics and national autonomy can be seen in Singapore's skyline today, dominated by a forest of high-rises. The city is probably the cleanest in the world, and the island is essentially drug- and crime-free. Poverty is almost nonexistent, and every citizen is guaranteed a job. While this utopian vision would seem too good to be true on the surface, the other side of life in the city-state is regimentation, strong peer and government pressure to conform to a narrow set of mores, and a harsh legal code. Dissent and even mild criticism of the government are not tolerated. The balance between strict social control and a relatively laissez-faire business climate has been and will continue to be a challenge for the government to maintain - especially in our increasingly electronic and boundary-less world. In the meantime, remember that when you are visiting Singapore, you are expected to observe the local laws.

This month, the Singapore Airshow is under way at Changi Exhibition Centre, now the permanent venue for the biennial event. Singapore also hosts a Formula 1 Grand Prix auto race, part of the international calendar, which runs over the downtown streets under lights at night. The other 51 weeks of the year, surface traffic is manageable, and the city is very safe and secure. Hotels are currently running about 95% capacity, and Jet Aviation's Kahn predicts that 2012 will see a 15-20% hike in rates in response to the demand, elevating average room pricing to SG$250 a night.