Macau's casino battle is also likely to be fought in the skies in the coming years, with incumbent Stanley Ho buying seven business jets to fly in high-rollers to his properties.

Jet Asia, the business aviation wing of Ho's casino operator Sociedade de Jogos de Macau (SJM), has ordered two Hawker 900XPs and four Hawker 750s. First delivery is expected in November and the aircraft will be configured with eight-seat VIP interiors, says chief executive Chuck Woods. "We had expected the Hawkers to be delivered monthly, but there is a programme delay on the 750s. Regardless, most of the Hawkers will be in revenue service by mid-2008," he adds.

The company is also in discussions to buy a refurbished executive aircraft with a 24-seat VIP cabin. Earlier this year it ordered a Bombardier Challenger 605 for delivery in August 2009 and a Bombardier Global 5000 for September 2010 to replace existing aircraft. All of Jet Asia's aircraft will be registered in Macau.

"We'll support SJM casinos as they design new bundled offerings for their high-end guests. The aircraft will provide SJM with flexible VIP services using the right-sized aircraft for each trip," says Woods.

Building Jet Asia's fleet is part of Ho's plan to shore up his position as the region's largest casino operator. He lost a 40-year monopoly on concessions in Macau 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 could use its US-based business jets for its Asian operations, say industry sources. Other countries in the region are also eyeing the gaming market, with Singapore planning to open two casinos by the end of the decade.

With an eye on the growing regional competition, Jet Asia could deploy aircraft in cities such as Taipei, Taiwan and Malaysia's capital Kuala Lumpur. It could also base one or two in mainland China, which is increasingly seen as one of the biggest sources of punters and especially high rollers.

"Things were much easier when Stanley Ho was the sole casino operator in Macau. There was a steady stream of customers and almost everything he touched made a profit. Now he must respond to the competition and entice the customers, especially the high-rollers. Flying these VIP guests in on business jets is just one perk," says an industry observer.

The aircraft will also be available for charter through Bangkok-based OrientSkys, which Jet Asia appointed as its marketing and sales affiliate in 2006. OrientSkys, which offers personalised packages and concierge services, suits Jet Asia as it has a global reach and a 24h client service, says Woods. Being based in Bangkok also helps it to control its costs, and cover Asia and other markets with ease, he adds

"Our fleet will be one of the youngest and most versatile in Asia," says Woods. "This outsourcing strategy has allowed us to focus on our business development, fleet expansion and product excellence. Although OrientSkys' clients are global, their products and services are all about high-end Asian travel."

Source: Flight International