Singapore’s Seletar Airport business aviation hub is about to become a dual-use airport with the introduction of commercial turboprop aircraft.

Changi Airport Group (CAG), which manages both Changi Airport and Seletar Airport, is currently building a new passenger terminal at Seletar, to be completed this year.

The  building is 9,500 sq. meters (31,000 sq. ft.) in size, of which 500 sq. meters will be dedicated to serving business aviation passengers. They will be separated from commercial passengers and will have their own dedicated facilities, including their own check-in area.

Hawker Pacific VP for Asia Louis Leong says, “Business jets serve a very different profile of passenger to commercial aircraft.

“We cater to high-profile and very important customers who want to ensure when they land, no time is wasted waiting at the airport. [The] time factor is very important. Also, they need to have facilities. They may want to do a short meeting or conference call before they board the plane,” says Leong, who is also a senior member of the Asian Business Aviation Association (AsBAA).

Having commercial turboprops relocate to Seletar Airport has caused some concerns in Singapore’s business aviation community, because there is already a shortage of parking at Seletar Airport.

“I see it the problem of limited parking, more so of late, for the larger aircraft,” says Leong.

“Because of the scarcity of space at Seletar Airport, ‘how will that be affected with turboprops coming in?’ These are some of the questions industry players are asking.”

But he adds, “I personally don’t think there will be much change.”

 “As far as I know, there will only be one turboprop operator that will be operating to Seletar Airport,” says Leong, referring to Malaysian turboprop operator Firefly.

Firefly flies from Ipoh, Kuantan and Kuala Lumpur Subang to Changi Airport, but most of its flights to Singapore are on the Subang-Changi route.

The airline has been told it must relocate to Seletar Airport, once the new passenger terminal there is completed, as Changi Airport will be for jet aircraft only. The Singapore authorities argue that turboprops’ slow approach speed means that in some instances two landing slots are required. Changi Airport has been subject to slot constraints, so it wants to free up slots.

Firefly’s CEO, Ignatius Ong, has said publicly that he anticipates Firefly will move into Seletar before year-end.

He also says Firefly plans to increase services to Singapore once it relocates to Seletar Airport. In recent years, Firefly has been unable to increase services to Singapore, because CAG stopped issuing new slots at Changi Airport to turboprop operators.

This has effectively meant Firefly has enjoyed a monopoly on the Kuala Lumpur Subang-Singapore route.

Some industry observers anticipate that other turboprop operators, such as Malaysia’s Malindo Air, will seek to fly to Seletar Airport once the passenger terminal opens.

Firefly’s Ong also says he would like Seletar Airport to have an instrument landing system (ILS), “so it can be a proper commercial airport.”

Hawker Pacific’s Leong says, “Our current VFR [visual flight rules] approach is inevitably presenting a lot of limitations. So, we do have some flights that are diverted to Changi Airport because of low cloud and potential storms. Having ILS would definitely make it easier for the pilots to bring aircraft in here.”

In the meantime, Hawker Pacific has a tie-up with SATS, so when one of its clients’ business jets needs to be diverted to Changi Airport, Hawker Pacific calls on SATS to do the ground handling.

But Leong says for a commercial airline operator, such as Firefly, having to suddenly divert an aircraft to Changi Airport would be very challenging, because so many more people are affected.

Another issue with Seletar Airport is the length of the runway; it is 1,836 meters long.

The runway is too short for larger business jets to take off with a full load of fuel. It means these larger aircraft often end up over at Changi Airport.

There is one issue, however, that the authorities have solved. There use to be a lack of land – with runway access – available for development at Seletar Airport, but Leong says this is no longer an issue.

“The authorities have announced an expansion of Seletar Airport east camp,” says Leong, adding that “it looks like a huge piece of land for expansion.”

He says this large parcel of land was previously unavailable because the developer of Seletar Airport, JTC Corporation (formerly Jurong Town Corporation), wanted to focus first on developing the west side.