Bookajet plans expansion of European management fleet

 - October 2, 2006, 10:41 AM

It is tempting to subscribe to the stereotypical view that if you need to ask how much business aviation costs then it isn’t for you. But thinks that perspective is fundamentally wrong. The UK aircraft management and charter firm wants people to ask how much it costs to use business aircraft because it believes it can demonstrate that this mode of transportation is a lot more affordable than many imagine and that the right help can make it even more affordable.

Bookajet manages other people’s aircraft and earns them income in the charter market under its Asset Alliance Program. It also helps other charter operators generate more income by undertaking their sales and marketing operations.

“We’re not like many people in business aviation who have lots of money behind them,” declared co-managing director Christian Rooney. “We are ambitious and proactive about getting bookings for our clients’ aircraft.”

Rooney reckons that few executive charter operators (at least in Europe) market themselves proactively, preferring to “sit back and wait for calls to come in.” He finds himself staggered by the complacency of that approach.

Bookajet, which operates from the London-area Farnborough Airport, has 15 employees, all of whom are actively involved in selling the aircraft the company manages. Six staff members spend their days conducting telephone and Internet marketing, and they have so far built a database of some 7,000 clients and prospective clients. Bookajet also works with charter brokers.

During July, Bookajet fielded almost 500 inquiries about flights that its aircraft could make and an additional 240 about trip requirements that its fleet could not meet. The company’s goal is to respond to inquiries with a firm trip price quote within one hour for its short- to medium-range aircraft and within two hours for the longer-range Gulfstream G550. The G550 is currently flying about 1,200 hours per year for charter clients, while the Citations and the Premier I are logging around 600 for-hire hours per year.

Bookajet’s fleet now consists of a G550, two Citation Excels, a Citation VII and a Premier I. With the exception of the Premier I, the jets are operated by Sweden’s Executive Flight Services, with Bookajet responsible solely for sales and marketing. These aircraft are based in Gothenburg and Stockholm. Another Excel and a Citation XLS are to arrive soon at Farnborough to be operated by Bookajet itself.

By year-end, Bookajet hopes to be managing four more aircraft. Among the candidates are another G550, a Falcon 900, two more Excels and a pair of Hawker 800s. The G550 should be on the company’s aircraft operator’s certificate by November.

In addition to talking to aircraft owners about management contracts, the company is also in contact with other charter operators and management firms that may not have the capability or appetite to handle sales and marketing. Bookajet would now like to augment its fleet with aircraft from the super-midsize category, such as Gulfstream’s new G200.

The firm also believes that new smaller jets such as the Premier I have great potential to expand the European charter market. However, it is not entirely convinced that the still smaller new-generation very light jets will find a place on their side of the Atlantic, due to the uncertainty about whether it will be legal to operate the airplanes with a single pilot and the viability of insuring them for commercial use.

Aircraft Management

According to Bookajet co-managing director Jonathan Clements, each management contract is drawn up after a detailed discussion of each aircraft owner’s needs and preferences. In his view, it is vital for the success of the relationship that both sides clearly establish the terms under which the aircraft will be made available for charter and the owner’s flying requirements.

Clements said that the contract ought to specify how much notice the owner needs to give the management company to be sure of having his or her aircraft available. Bookajet typically has two weeks’ notice, but it can adjust this figure depending on the priority the owner places on keeping the aircraft in paid employment. In the event that the owner needs an airplane and his airplane is committed to a charter booking, Bookajet will endeavor to make another aircraft available from the fleet.

According to Rooney, many aircraft owners have started to take a more pragmatic approach to the availability of their aircraft on the charter market. In his opinion, owners are increasingly willing to accept some loss of flexibility to generate more income and, essentially earn more subsidized hours in their aircraft. “Customers are generally becoming more so-phisticated about how business aviation works and they are more discerning about the different options available to them,” he told AIN.

Each aircraft Bookajet manages operates under its own cost structure so that the owner can have a clear picture of the overall income and expenditure for the airplane. The owner gets all the profits from charter operations, minus Bookajet’s management fee, which varies according to the terms of its contract.

Bookajet and the owner also agree on a policy for setting charter rates for each aircraft. The rates depend on how aggressive each owner is about getting charter work, but generally the company does not advocate bidding low just for the sake of keeping an aircraft occupied.

Tapping the European Market

Rooney and Clements believe that Bookajet can expand the Asset Alliance Program beyond the UK into mainland Europe. They also intend to establish offices in New York and Moscow later this year in response to increasing demand from U.S. and Russian clients for charter flights into and within Europe.

“We want to establish an international charter fleet that can compete with NetJets,” said Rooney, as if to assert that his ambitions know no limits. He acknowledged the contribution that the fractional ownership giant has made to raising awareness of business aviation in Europe but insisted that the market is now becoming a lot more probing in evaluating alternative options. Bookajet’s strategy, he explained, is to further demystify business aviation and establish beyond doubt that it is not the sole preserve of the super-wealthy, money-no-object brigade.