Skyjet finds partners the key to a successful program

 - December 18, 2006, 12:36 PM

Bombardier guarantees its Skyjet International block charter customers availability of a specified type of business aircraft (or a superior model) if a booking is made by 4 p.m. on the day before the required departure date. The company’s ability to deliver on this guarantee depends on its being able to coordinate the charter capacity of Skyjet partner operators worldwide, including some 30 in Europe and 20 in the Middle East and Asia. With the company’s North American partners, the full Skyjet fleet now offers more than 900 Bombardier jets.

The task of marshalling all these resources falls to Skyjet International’s operations department based at the London-area Farnborough Airport. This team is responsible for ensuring that all operators meet the program’s safety standards and minimum service levels.

U.S. operations are handled from Dallas by Skyjet International’s sister company, Skyjet. When a customer from Europe, the Middle East or Asia flies in the U.S., the Skyjet International team manages the entire operation. In this instance, the customer could end up flying on either an aircraft operated for Bombardier’s Flexjet fractional ownership program or one flown by one of Skyjet’s approved operators in the U.S.

To join Skyjet, operators first need to be registered on an approved aircraft operator’s certificate (AOC). Bombardier provides assistance in setting up an AOC for new customers.

Bombardier audits all operators before they join the Skyjet charter fleet and conducts subsequent follow-up checks to ensure that the standards are maintained. Minimum levels of insurance coverage have to be in place.

Individual aircraft within an operator’s fleet also have to be approved and the operations department will ensure that only these tail numbers are booked for Skyjet flights. Aircraft can be removed from the approved list if the company deems their condition has fallen below acceptable standards. The Skyjet audits also ascertain whether each aircraft’s cabin is in sufficiently good condition.

The minimum operating standards require that flight crew work in presentable uniforms and meet the passengers in the airport terminal or FBO. They must position the aircraft at least 90 minutes before the booked departure time (to give customers latitude to take off earlier if they wish, and if an en route air traffic slot is available).

The standards require crews to follow specified de-icing and refueling procedures and to conduct an emergency evacuation demonstration. They also cover the provision of catering and insist that a specified handling agent is used for each flight.

According to Skyjet International managing director Judith Moreton, for more than a year, no customer has left the program because of service issues. At least 25 percent of new members join as a result of personal referrals.

Operators are not contractually obliged to accept Skyjet bookings unless such a clause has been included in a new aircraft contract under which the operator itself is guaranteed a certain number of charter hours. In these cases, Bombardier has effectively pre-purchased the flight hours for its Skyjet clients.

No Market Control
“We have a symbiotic relationship with our operators, a real partnership,” Moreton told AIN. She said that there is never an intention to create a competitive conflict between Skyjet bookings and business that operators are readily able to get themselves at different charter rates. She explained that Skyjet is not trying to control local charter markets, and the program’s pricing is structured so that customers flying from their local airport with an operator based there will probably be able to get less expensive flights by booking directly.

Skyjet is unashamedly a marketing tool to create fresh demand for Bombardier business aircraft, and the company’s goal is to expose potential jet buyers to its newest models. The Canadian airframer’s sales team is encouraged to identify places where new or existing operators could fill gaps in charter supply.

In emerging markets, such as Asia, Moreton and her team are being proactive and creative by channeling expertise and support to get new charter operations up and running. Princely Jets in Pakistan–where a Skyjet client has established his own operation–is a prime example and here the manufacturer has worked closely with the country’s aviation authorities to make the start-up possible. In new markets like these Bombardier will offer more generous guarantees of charter bookings to prime the charter-supply pumps.

However, Skyjet’s operations department does not consider Bombardier’s commercial relationship with operators when deploying aircraft on charter missions, and it is committed to showing no favoritism to any particular operator in assigning bookings. Its overriding responsibility is to get the most suitable aircraft booked for a client in a way that makes the most cost-effective use of the available fleet. The operations staff use Eurocontrol’s central flow management unit (CFMU) to monitor current and planned aircraft positioning.

In Europe, the operations department has eight controllers and an operations manager, plus three customer support staff. There are operations managers at Skyjet’s Dubai and Hong Kong offices, and the latter also has an assistant. All of these people report to operations director Andrew Hoy.

From Booking to Flight
As soon as a Skyjet customer calls or e-mails to book a flight, the operations team starts preparing an itinerary. If the requested flight is just a day or two away, they will specify the aircraft tail number. If the customer has provided more notice, they will not generally lock into a particular aircraft, preferring to wait for a fuller picture of fleet availability to unfold. Either way, the client generally gets an itinerary back the same day.

The operations controller is the main point of contact for the client. This person will consult the approved operator and aircraft lists, checking that all AOCs, insurance coverage and pilot qualifications are in place. Skyjet captains are required to have a minimum of 2,500 total flight hours in their logbook, 500 jet hours, 200 hours in type and as pilot-in-command. First officers have to have at least 1,500 total hours, 100 jet and 50 in type.

The controller will check the client’s actual seating requirements for a flight to identify any anomalies–such as the need to find a Challenger with 11 passenger seats, rather than the usual 10. He will also consult the personal profiles for each customer to flag preferences such as beverages or newspapers.

The operators themselves book any necessary en route or airport slots directly and allocate the crew. The Skyjet operations team checks both these matters, and monitors all notams and factors such as runway length and payload requirements.

On the night before the flight, they will monitor forecast weather conditions. If the Skyjet team foresees problems, it might instruct an operator to position the aircraft to the departure airport that night, or recommend the use of an alternate airport. Neither change to the plan would alter the fixed price the client pays for the flight.
“We take ownership of the whole experience,” said Hoy. “We want to anticipate everything and be completely reliable for the customer.”

On the day of the flight, the operations team will check the CFMU for slot delays. They will talk directly to the pilots, who are required to report when they arrive at the departure airport and again when the passengers arrive.

If the passengers are going to be late, the operations controller informs the pilots. Skyjet customers are assured of having two hours’ leeway after the booked departure time for a flight.

The operations team also checks that catering and ground transportation arrangements are in place as requested.

Each flight has a dedicated monitor who follows the operation from two hours before departure until the aircraft arrives at its destination. A “glitch report” is automatically sent to the customer support staff if an aircraft departs more than 15 minutes late. “We watch operational patterns to be able to pre-empt problems and intervene at the earliest opportunity to deal with customer concerns,” concluded Hoy.

Skyjet International flew more than 10,000 hours for its clients last year. The program has more than 200 cardholders and, according to Moreton, these clients have been buying more hours to boost revenues by almost 25 percent. She anticipates growth of 25 percent this year.

Bombardier is expected to announce a “second generation” version of the Skyjet program. “The 2007 jet card will offer a huge increase in flexibility for customers–a level of flexibility that is as yet unseen in the marketplace,” promised Moreton.