WHENEVER Gulfstream International executive Charlie Williams tries to sell corporate jets in the Asia-Pacific region, potential buyers ask where the aircraft can be stored. Mr Williams, the US company's division vice-president for North Asia, used to have problems answering that question, because many of the region's airports were at capacity and slot priority was given to commercial transport. Not today, however, as new and upgraded airports open opportunities for the elite market. Hong Kong in particular is seen as a place where the market will boom, with the new two-runway Chek Lap Kok airport due to open in 1998 to replace the saturated single-runway Kai Tak. 'It's been so hard to park around here for so long,' Jim Eckes, managing director of Hong Kong-based consultancy Indoswiss Aviation, said. 'For a long time, Kai Tak has refused permission for most corporate aircraft to get in here. Without any facilities to park - and before Macau's new airport opened last year - they would have had to park them in a place like Taipei, which just wasn't convenient. 'But when Chek Lap Kok opens I'm sure a number will already be in the hangar. Now that there will be openings, there will be a big market here.' Hong Kong's airport authority appears to agree, having just announced it is inviting firms to submit expressions of interest for the design, construction, operation and management of a business aviation centre to cater to corporate aircraft at the new airport. The self-contained complex will have its own aviation refuelling services, an aircraft and avionics services centre, a pilots' and passengers' lounge, and weather and flight briefing facilities. Work will start in time for the building to be opened soon after the second runway is operational by autumn 1998. An air traffic survey carried out for the authority by consultancy Wilbur Smith Associates says the number of flights into Chek Lap Kok by corporate aircraft could reach 1,500 per year by 2000, 6,000 by 2005 and 11,100 by 2010. That compares with about 500 into Kai Tak last year and just under 400 in 1994. The study says the industry's growth will be driven by the high economic growth rates in the Pearl River Delta region and the fact that many of the world's major corporations have offices in Hong Kong. Mr Eckes said the airport authority's decision to open a business aviation centre was made in part because of Macau's US$1 billion-plus airport that opened in November. Many have called it a white elephant because few passengers are travelling through it on commercial flights, opting instead to fly through Hong Kong's more convenient Kai Tak. But Mr Eckes says Macau could become a niche airport for corporate aircraft owners to base their flashy jets. Casino magnate Stanley Ho Hung-sun, who through his company Sociedade de Tourismo Diversoes de Macau (STDM) invested millions in the Portuguese enclave's airport, was the first to buy a corporate jet and park it there - a Challenger manufactured by Canadair of Montreal. President of Templeton Emerging Markets Fund Mark Mobius also has one - a Gulfstream III, which he bases in the US. The aircraft spends much of its time in Macau when Kai Tak authorities refuse it permission to land. Recognising the potential for growth, a group led by STDM is setting up a corporate jet charter service at Macau airport to serve time-conscious executive travellers on unlimited expense accounts. Air Luxor Macau, which aims to start operations this year, is owned by STDM, Portugal's Air Luxor and Mr Ho's son-in-law Peter Kjaer. The fixed-base operation (FBO), as it is called in the industry, will also offer full servicing to corporate jet owners who for years have been forced to fly on commercial aircraft because of lack of landing slots at congested Kai Tak. Mr Kjaer said a hangar and terminal were being built for the operation, with the hangar due to be ready by October and the terminal by December. 'We are developing a market that has not existed here before,' Mr Kjaer said. 'The interest has already been immense from international operators who for years have by-passed Hong Kong because they could not land their planes. 'Many international corporations own their own jets, and this way they can save time with direct flights instead of having to go on commercial aircraft.' For Gulfstream's Mr Williams, selling aircraft in Asia is much easier today than it was in the past. Almost two months ago he moved from Singapore and has opened a new representative office in Hong Kong. His days are spent writing letters to potential buyers - the elite of the business world and governments and quasi-government organisations - in Hong Kong, China, Taiwan, South Korea, Brunei and Japan. Gulfstream has two models available - the Gulfstream IV priced at about US$28 million and the new ultra-long-range Gulfstream V priced at about US$33 million. But prices for some competitors' jets with smaller cabins and shorter ranges run as low as US$4 million, Mr Eckes says. Canada's Bombardier is a big name in the industry, with three subsidiaries producing aircraft for the corporate market, including Canadair, De Havilland and Learjet. Dassault Aviation of France produces the Falcon, Kansas-based Cessna has its Citation, AstraJet of New Jersey its Beech, and Raytheon has the Hawker jet. 'I think we all agree Hong Kong is a potential market for a number of reasons,' Mr Williams said. 'With the expansion of Hong Kong companies outside of Asia, the requirement for transportation of senior executives arises. Now you also see a place where local individuals and companies can keep aircraft. 'Availability to house and feed an aeroplane is a big issue. You don't buy a brand new Ferrari if you don't have a garage to put it in.' The market is also expected to grow quickly in other parts of the region, particularly in South Korea, Japan and China. Seoul's busy Kimpo airport in the coming years will have a massive replacement just outside the South Korean capital, and authorities at saturated Narita airport in Tokyo recently announced they were dedicating a number of slots per day to business aircraft following years of pressure from US aviation officials. In southern and central China, dozens of new airports are being built and many others are being modernised as mainland authorities open the country's doors wider to many of the world's top businesses. Unlike South Korea and Japan, only a few government-owned corporate jets fly in China. But Mr Eckes said that would change as massive quasi-government organisations such as China National Petroleum saw their US and European counterparts owning their own aircraft. Mr Williams said Gulfstream had more than 60 aircraft either on order or already flying in the region, with most in Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Singapore, Indonesia, Australia, New Zealand, Malaysia, Brunei and India. He said his company expected about 20 per cent of sales for the new 6,500-nautical-mile-range Gulfstream V to be in the Asia-Pacific, far more than its previous models. The number of corporate jets registered in the region is thought to be in the low hundreds - fewer than in the US and Europe, where large corporations for decades have used their own aircraft. Many of the manufacturers' Asian customers are government or government-linked organisations, but that is changing as the region grows wealthier. 'You've got a new generation here today which really looks closely at how valuable their time is,' Mr Eckes said.