28 MARCH 2022


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Article from BTNews 28 MARCH 2022

ON TOUR: Business aviation update

It has been a busy time for the business aviation fraternity and not just in terms of flying.  March kicked off with Corporate Jet Investor (CJI) 2022 in London and continued through to the British Business Aviation Association’s annual conference at Luton Hoo writes Alison Chambers.

A common theme at both was sustainability – the need to go green, or as James Hardie, Head of Regional Marketing at Collins Aerospace, dubbed it – getting the industry to “eat its greens”.  Hardie invited British Business and General Aviation Association (BBGA) members to respond to a newly drafted survey and share what initiatives members are doing, leading an expert panel with Willie Brewster, Support Manager EMEA, Signature Flight; Callum Cooper, Business Development Manager; Hunt & Palmer; and Laura Bowden, Global Marketing Manager, Air bp.
Charter broker Callum Cooper highlighted that it wasn’t so easy to get clients to agree to take sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) – even when it was available – there was still apprehension. Not just the fact that it is more expensive.  Its adoption is a critical part of the journey to Jet Zero and where it isn’t available there are solutions like Book and Claim where SAF is ‘booked’ in one location, but carbon reductions associated with it are claimed elsewhere.

Leo Knappen at Bombardier shared that his company now offers it free to new customers, but even the manufacturer encounters resistance.  More needs to be done on the wider education, we heard with Knappen, suggesting more engagement – including workshops to drive the message.  Knappen is retiring this summer having served Bombardier for 33 years.  Latterly he has been a firm proponent of sustainable aviation.  Surely a consultancy advocacy role awaits him? Air bp’s Laura Bowden stated SAF, made from sustainable feedstocks and blended with traditional jet fuel, is certified as Jet A-1 and therefore as safe to use as a drop-in fuel.

Meanwhile, a panel addressing the future of fixed-wing electric/hybrid-electric and electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) platforms chaired by Mike Stones, Executive Editor at CJI, fresh from CJI London, agreed the next gen hybrid electric models are benefitting from a ‘Covid kick start’, but it was important to be mindful of a lot of hype that is flooding the industry.  “If that hype bubble bursts, electric aviation could die with it”, we heard.   Costs are crucial and battery technology needs to advance significantly for real progress.  Green technologies, however, offer the potential to re-enthuse young people back into aviation, said Edwin Brenninkmeyer, Oriens Aviation, founder and CEO.  He and Faradair’s Neil Cloughley took the time to chat with guest students at Stansted College who had some specific questions on electric aircraft.   

Speaking as UK sales distributor for Tecnam, Brenninkmeyer highlighted the Italian OEM is partnering with Rolls-Royce on the P-Volt – an electric version of its 11-seat piston-engined P2012 regional aircraft Traveller. The aircraft’s range will be 45nm or 85nm without reserves (building up to 145nm in year 2030 when battery technology advances).  P-Volt already has a launch customer in regional airline Widerøe.  Faradair, looking to restore aircraft production in the UK out of its Duxford Aerodrome home, blending vintage with next gen, is working on clean sheet hybrid electric 18-seat triplane passenger and cargo / utility aircraft with partners including Honeywell.

Ampaire is focusing on retrofitting, said John Rees, Chief Engineer – a speedier route to certification.  After successful hybrid-electric trials last summer with a modified Cessna 337 Skymaster, Ampaire UK is developing a hybrid / electric Britten-Norman Islander, he said.  (The programme is called Outlander).  Its two existing engines are to be replaced by more efficient SAF-powered engines which are joined by two electric motors driving additional propellers, for a 335nm range, affording a 50% reducing in fuel consumption and an 85% reduction in emissions.

Darrell Swanson, from Swanson Consulting, highlighted 47% of turboprop flights in Europe in 2017 were serving 200nm sectors – representing a ready marketplace for next gen fixed wing and eVTOL players Joby, Vertical, Archer, Heart Aerospace and Faradair.  In a 2021 report, published by ADS Group, he identified 286 airport pairs, but only 43 of them had commercial operations.  “That’s just the low hanging fruit”, he said.

Engineering and infrastructure challenges apart, the panel agreed there should be firm progress on next-gen programmes by 2025.  It will also make smaller airfields much more relevant, with Swanson identifying a UK market of an initial 224 next gen hybrid aircraft (fixed wing and eVTOL).

Sustainability apart, the dna of business aviation – availability, reliability, privacy, safety, time saving (add Covid secure environment) has resulted in an all-time high sentiment for business aviation. Richard Koe, Managing Director of WINGX, outlined that more and more newcomers have turned to charter, fractional ownership, outright jet ownership.  Business aircraft orderbooks are at their strongest in eight years.  The average new aircraft delivery position is 18 months and pre-owned aircraft inventory is below 5% – a boom time for aircraft brokers not seen since 2008.  

This is reflected in the fact that business aviation flying has far exceeded scheduled airline activity.  The former grew by 7% in 2021 compared with 2019, whilst airline activity dropped 38%. More tellingly, business aviation, which already has a multiple-ratio advantage over scheduled in terms of unique connections, grew its connectivity by 5% in 2021, whilst unique scheduled connections dropped 20%. “The embedded erosion in the range of choice for scheduled airline travellers is a key factor in the switch to business aviation”, Richard Koe said.

Former BBGA Chair and co-founder of Gama Aviation plc Marwan Khalek was presented with this year’s prestigious Michael Wheatley Award for outstanding services to general and business aviation.  An early pioneer of air taxi services, out of Fairoaks Airport (UK), with one Beech Baron, to the global aviation services company it is today, employing 1,000 people, Khalek is a highly respected and admired founding father of business aviation, with four decades of industry knowledge and experience.   

In his 2021 review, Marc Bailey, CEO, BBGA, was pleased to highlight the association’s work to get more people into aviation through its close association with the Aviation Skills Retention Platform (ASRP).  Providing an update since its formal launch a year ago, TRS Engagement Director Richard Smith highlighted 100-plus aviation companies have registered on the platform.  Over 8,000 vacancies have been advertised and over 1,000 candidates are working towards returning to careers in aviation.  TRS is now hosting Talentview Aviation to attract the next generation of employees from schools, colleges and universities, he shared.  

Aviation brokers are also experiencing a frenzied time, the likes of which, they agreed, have not been seen since 2007 with inflated pre-owned prices and scarce availability.  Six- to eight-year-old aircraft in good condition have seen values up 20%.  In the bigger cabin category, there isn’t anything available, we heard. "Buyers who weren't prepared to rush and make a quick decision, keep on missing sales", said Freestream Aviation CEO, Alireza Ittihadieh, and lengthy delays for maintenance slots at the maintenance and repair overhaul companies are adding to the pressure to prepare pre-owned aircraft.  This is a good opportunity for UK MROs for pre-buy inspections we heard.
Pre-pandemic Russia had been one of the fastest recovering markets – both business and scheduled / commercial aviation surpassing 2021 levels, and on the eve of the Ukraine invasion, business jet activity from Russia was trending up 25% in 2022 versus 2019.  Now it is “unplugged”.

The direct impact of the war will almost certainly remove all Russian demand from the European business jet market.  The war’s impact on the global economy, and the specific effect on investor confidence, does not augur well for the industry in the second half of 2022, suggested Richard Koe.  In our media session focused on the Russia / Ukraine conflict, speakers highlighted KYC – know your customer – and perform careful due diligence.  “Rigorous KYC has always been a requirement under anti-money laundering legislation – if a lawyer or a financier does not know their client then they are not complying with the law and can be held personally accountable.  The Russian sanctions regime highlights the need for these processes and procedures and why they are so important”, Aoife O’Sullivan, Partner, Air Law Firm and BBGA Chair said.

Matthew Borie, Chief Intelligence Officer, Osprey Flight Solutions, highlighted that continued lack of access to Russian airspace is adding 1.5hrs to routes from Europe to Beijing, 2hrs to Tokyo and 3hrs on Polar routes.  It will also add to fuelling costs and additional requirements for crew rest and planning, as well as concern for flying over conflict zones.

An uplifting, inspirational story of resilience and courage was engagingly delivered by this year’s keynote speaker Mandy Hickson, call sign ‘Big Bird’, the UK’s second female fast jet pilot.  After securing an RAF flying scholarship aged 17, her journey took her from PPL, through University Air Squadron and the RAF’s flying training system to the front line, patrolling the No-Fly Zone over Iraq in the Tornado GR4.  Through highs and lows, Mandy’s remarkable story, outlined in a best-selling book An Officer, Not a Gentleman: The inspirational journey of a pioneering female fighter pilot, was a refreshing way to kick off a conference.  She also offered some sound day-to-day advice on coping with stress and anxiety.  A key take-away – focus on what you can control and let everything else go".

BBGA’s next networking (evening) event will be held coinciding with the Farnborough Air Show on the Terrace at The House of Commons, Palace of Westminster, on 18 July.


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