Jet Aviation continues expansion

 - October 17, 2006, 11:54 AM

Jet Aviation is preparing to open a new executive terminal at Dusseldorf Airport by year-end. The Swiss-based company has had an aircraft handling operation at the German airport for several years and now has the opportunity to upgrade its presence there to that of a major purpose-built FBO. It beat out competition from seven other firms for the right to build the new 4,305-sq-ft facility, for which construction was due to begin last month.

Dusseldorf Airport is a convenient gateway to Germany’s Rhine valley industrial region, as well as to the southern part of the Netherlands. Jet Aviation has had an FBO there for several years. Its other European FBOs are at Zurich and Geneva in Switzerland and at Biggin Hill in the London area. There are four more Jet Aviation FBOs in the U.S., as well as a new full-service facility in Dubai and operations in the Saudi Arabian cities of Riyadh and Jeddah.

Moscow is the next horizon in Jet Aviation’s plans to expand its international FBO network. The company has already spent a long time evaluating the right location and partner for serving business aviation traffic bound for the Russian capital, and it says that it needs to do more work before it is ready to finalize this plan.

European private equity group Permira has recently acquired Jet Aviation (for a sum thought to be in the region of $700 million). The new owner has yet to give any specific guidance as to the degree to which it is willing to provide fresh capital to support further expansion of Jet Aviation’s business.

Finding the Right Location

Building a chain of FBOs is a key part of Jet Aviation’s strategy of offering the strong, branded customer service the company believes reassures aircraft operators that they can expect a consistent standard of support at different airports. However, according to a spokesman, the company does not take the decision to open a new base lightly.

Naturally, it needs to be assured that a location will generate sufficient business aviation traffic to merit the investment. But Jet Aviation also needs to know that the airport will allow it access to sufficient infrastructure to meet its service standards. At Zurich, for example, business aviation is in danger of becoming a victim of the success of the low-cost airlines that are increasingly crowding the available ramp space for aircraft parking.

The base at London Biggin Hill Airport is another classic example of this approach. Jet Aviation had previously spent a long time assessing ways to enter the promising London market. After rejecting the chance to develop an FBO at Farnborough Airport–35 miles southwest of the UK capital–it settled on Biggin Hill, 12 miles southeast of London’s financial district.

In 2002 Jet Aviation opened its Biggin Hill FBO with a dedicated ramp on the south side of the airport and a pair of hangars totaling 55,830 sq ft. Over the past year it has boosted the volume of traffic it handles by as much as 43 percent–both from new aircraft drawn to the airport and through increasing its market share of traffic at Biggin Hill.

Full Service in London

The full-service FBO recently signed a fuel-supply agreement with BP so operators do not have to wait for jet-A to be supplied from the other side of the airport. It is an authorized service center for the Embraer Legacy and the Dassault Falcon 900 series and offers maintenance for other Falcons, as well as Hawkers, the Cessna Citation 550/560, Gulfstream G400/500/550 and Challenger 601/604 and Global Express. The center can also handle interior refurbishment and aircraft painting.

Jet Aviation’s Biggin Hill facility includes on-site customs and immigration clearance, separate crew and passenger lounges and office space. Over the past 12 months the company has added a separate crew snooze room with two beds and has hired more handling staff. Its dedicated ramp can accommodate up to eight aircraft at a time and the 27,125-sq-ft hangar can house aircraft up to the size of a Gulfstream G550.

According to the company spokes-man, most business aircraft operators still put service quality ahead of price when choosing FBOs. He pointed to the long-serving management at Jet Aviation’s European FBOs–such as Bernard Ratsira at Geneva and Robert Whitehead at Zurich–as evidence of the company’s commitment to building lasting relationships with operators. “This is what keeps our customers coming back, plus the fact that we have genuine full-service FBOs, offering maintenance as well as handling,” he told AIN.

Jet Aviation also benefits from operating aircraft itself (with both managed and charter fleets), giving its FBOs an intimate understanding of operators’ handling needs and priorities.