Jet Asia, the Macau-based business jet management company, will induct a refurbished narrowbody passenger aircraft with a VIP layout into its fleet in a few weeks part of its ongoing expansion.

Sociedade de Turismo e Diversoes de Macau (STDM), Jet Asia's owner and the holding company of Macau-based gaming tycoon Stanley Ho, is eyeing either a McDonnell Douglas MD-83 or a Boeing 737-300/400. The aircraft will undergo extensive refurbishment for conversion into a 24-seat business jet with long-range fuel tanks that allow it to fly up to 7,400km (4,000nm) non-stop.

"A decision is imminent," says Chuck Woods, chief executive of Jet Asia. "Our shareholders have given their nod for the purchase and we are now looking for the right aircraft. We will manage the aircraft, which will also be available for charter by the end of the year."

The company could be leaning towards an MD-83 as the airframe is better suited to installing long-range fuel tanks. However, it may go for a 737 instead if one that is fitted with long-range fuel tanks becomes available. The registration or base has not been confirmed, but almost all of the aircraft owned or managed by Jet Asia operate out of Macau.

With deliveries of new Boeing Business Jets or Bombardier Challenger 850s taking up to four years, refurbished aircraft that can be in service in a year at less than half the price are highly increasingly attractive. That fits Jet Asia, which is rapidly expanding its fleet to support the needs of the high net-worth customers at Ho's Macau casinos.

 © Boeing

Macau overtook Las Vegas in gaming revenues in 2006, and the growth in high-end casinos and hotels has drawn more visitors from China, eastern Europe and the Middle East. Ho lost a 40-year monopoly on gaming concessions on the island in 2002 and faces fierce competition from Las Vegas Sands, which opened the Venetian Macau - the island's largest integrated hotel and casino property - in August. Sands plans to use its US-based business jets for its Asian operations. Other Asian countries are also eyeing the gaming market, with Singapore planning to open two casinos by the end of the decade.

Jet Asia, which operates mainly Bombardier business jets, has just taken delivery of two new Hawker 900XPs. A Hawker 750is scheduled for delivery by the end of the month and another two 750s will be added to the fleet later this year. It could deploy aircraft at Taipei, Taiwan and Malaysia's capital Kuala Lumpur, and on mainland China - one of the biggest sources of Asian punters and high rollers. Ho is also chairman of Hong Kong-based Heli-Express, which last year ordered six AgustaWestland AW139 helicopters to ferry passengers to Macau.