Interview with Mr. Thierry Tea – Founder & CEO, PhilJets Group

IMG_0528Can you briefly introduce your company and your leadership role there?

PhilJets Group is an aviation solution group that comprises of PhilJets Aero Services, PhilJets Aero Charter, Fly N Dine Canteen, and Starline Global Industries. For Business Aviation, PhilJets Aero Services’ scope ranges from distribution of products such as spare parts, consumables, and aviation products, to provision services including representation, maintenance and repair, advisory, and aircrafts sales. PhilJets Aero Charter is active in aircraft management, ground handling, time share, fractional ownership, charter services and helicopter tours.

We started from ground zero merely two years ago, and now PhilJets has grown its helicopter business to a USD 10 million solid practice, and had successfully taken part in 15 aircraft sales transactions. PhilJets is now looking to explore the areas of fixed wing and jet management as a next step.

At PhilJets, my role is to develop strategies that create synergies and structural improvements to optimize our team’s operational efficiency. One of the key strategies relates to the recruitment and training of talents (an area we know AsBAA is also working actively in), both new talent and industry veterans to secure for the future of PhilJets, and the wider industry. Our vision is to become a truly global and integrated jet service provider, whereby PhilJets connects with industry players worldwide.

What’s the latest from your company?

PhilJets Aero Services most recently received its AMO License, paving the way for the development of our MRO capabilities.

We are developing our work in the Philippines, whereby we are bringing two small planes, (the Beechcraft Bonanza) for use by clients in the Provinces. For Manila-based clients, we’re working towards bringing in the bigger models such as the Bombardier LearJet 75 and Global 6000, to the market. We have recently confirmed an order for one brand new H130 (ex EC130T2), to add to our current helicopter fleet, now comprising of three Airbus Helicopters, including two H130, one AS350B2, and one Robinson R44.

In terms of next steps, we will first focus mainly on talent development as this is fundamental to the future development and growth for not only PhilJets but also the entire BizAv industry in general. We are looking to start with an establishment of a specialised training center, with the potential to then grow this into a vocational school or college. The development of HR and financing solutions at PhilJets is also being considered.

What’s your view on business aviation? Is it still an increasingly popular form of modern transportation, and why?

The business aviation industry in Asia has come a long way.  While it is still considered as somewhat of a luxury item by many, its practicality value is being recognised by many more, therefore increasing the overall popularity in recent years.

In many cases, astute investors started with smaller models to test the water and save travel time, but they always find themselves moving on to buying larger and more expensive models after they’ve come to appreciate the convenience and efficiency of business aviation.

One of our clients started out with a Mustang, and now has become an owner of fleet of three helicopters and three jets, including a CJ4 and a Citation Sovereign. He pointed out that (from a buyer’s perspective) by starting small, BizAv companies could in turn increase the sales and expand business easily, because whoever bought a helicopter or jet will generally be looking to upgrade to bigger and better models.

Another very good example is our newest client and first fixed wing principal, that started out with a Beechcraft Bonanza to travel in between different islands where their businesses reside, as it is far more practical and efficient than taking commercial flights. They valued the efficiency and have gone on to upgrade their models, buy more jets, and they now are already in the need of building themselves a hangar!

Personally I believe the Mekong region will be one of Asia’s fastest development areas when it comes to BizAv, across countries such as Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar, etc.

What are some of the industry issues that concern you the most? How do you think these issues should be addressed?

For me, talent retention is one of the very key issues, especially when there are only a very limited number of qualified talents in the first place, that are also very hard to recruit. The situation is further intensified for Asia’s BizAv industry as pilots and mechanics are increasingly attracted by major airlines, or by the more developed Middle Eastern companies.

Looking at the increasing costs associated with training, I believe that there is a need for more training centers to be developed, as well as investments into continuous education for Asia’s BizAv talent development, and therefore industry’s wide development.

How did AsBAA help in addressing these issues and how it could better help?

It is challenging for any individual BizAv companies to develop in the Asia market, mainly because of the market diversity and differences in various areas, such as regulations and resources, and the problems and issues in China are definitely different from issues in the Philippines, for instance. However, through AsBAA, we have a platform to truly collaborate through the sharing of information and best practices, etc., to bridge the information gap between members and market segments, for more openness and transparency.

What do you think it really takes to develop industry talent, especially with grassroots e.g. supporting education?

I truly believe education is the only way to improve BizAv’s industry standards in Asia. For example, the Philippines holds many great talents, but unfortunately most of the best talents are either already abroad, about to go abroad, or will go abroad, to be trained up and educated. Local retention is a real issue.

We need to work with partners in order to create an industrial and service hub for Business Aviation and Aviation in general in different countries, and take the opportunity to exchange between these hubs. PhilJets is working hard to achieve this.

What do you find is most rewarding about your role as a leader in an aviation company?

Building a team, building structures, and seeing the results of our strategies. These are my most rewarding experiences. Leading is very much like flying — you are either in or out of the right direction, and there is no in between. It takes training and experience to be able to feel it and see it. It is always rewarding and thrilling as you successfully “take off”.

In addition, providing customers incredible lifetime experiences or simply being able to helping them increase their business is a great feeling. The joy of achieving customer satisfaction, building a proud team, and keeping them both safe, is very rewarding.

What do you think is the survival skill (set) in the business aviation industry?

 Business Aviation, particularly in Asia is actually a small world. One key survival requirement is integrity. If you ever sacrifice or compromise on this, people will never forget.  Which means you will lose business sooner or later.

In this industry, integrity is reputation, and it is very easy to find out one’s reputation in this small industry where everyone knows everyone.  There is little room for compromise and mediocrity.

If you remain true to your values, and do fair business, people will always remember. I have some clients and friends with whom I lose touch for years, and when the opportunity comes, we do business again like we’ve never parted.

What is your favourite travel destination and why?

My wife and I, we love going to Cambodia. The temples in Siem Reap are wonderful. We like it so much that we both started some other businesses there.

The ambiance and surroundings are so vibrant in Phnom Penh, and there is so much culture in Siem Reap.

Anything else you want to share with the AsBAA community?

We can try to grow the AsBAA spirit in South East Asia. PhilJets will start to spread the word in the Philippines.

I believe there could be more synergies between all industry players and AsBAA members as well. I am French Cambodian Chinese, and I have worked in both Hong Kong and Shanghai, so for me, I can relate to the diversity of AsBAA. However, I think for some other countries, we have to reach out to the ASEAN culture of Business Aviation, in order to help it grow.