DaimlerChrysler Aviation is all about versatility

 - October 11, 2007, 11:00 AM

“Business aviation with commercial airline standards” is how DaimlerChrysler Aviation (DCA) describes operations with its fleet consisting of an Airbus Corporate Jetliner (ACJ), Bombardier Challenger 604s, a Global Express and several Learjets. Based at Stuttgart, Germany, the company provides corporate flights, including a frequent transatlantic shuttle, for the multinational automotive group that owns it, as well as charter and aircraft management contract services that generate income to offset operating costs. It is also a “preferred operator” under Bombardier Flexjet Europe’s Jet Membership block- charter program.

DCA, which claims to have the largest business jet fleet in Germany, was set up five years ago from two existing flight departments following the merger of Germany’s DaimlerBenz with U.S. automaker Chrysler. The original DaimlerBenz operation in Germany had used a pair of Dassault Falcon 20s. Following the merger, the two operations continued to fly from Stuttgart and Waterford, Mich., respectively. Since late 2001, DCA has been a stand-alone European operation after group-wide rationalization resulted in the U.S. aviation arm being sold to Edsel Ford II (who has resurrected the earlier Pentastar Aviation brand for that operation).

Today, DCA aircraft are still frequent visitors to the Detroit-area Waterford Airport, with the ACJ being used for DaimlerChrysler’s shuttle operations from Stuttgart. Configured for 44 passengers in a generous 60-inch seat pitch, the aircraft runs on a regular airline-type schedule that sees European employees landing in Michigan at lunchtime and eastbound workers leaving in the early evening to fly overnight to Germany. The nonstop operation ensures high utilization of the 3,780-nm ACJ, which has replaced an earlier A320 that required a refueling stop in Iceland.

Extending Its Reach
DCA’s fleet is used to reach destinations that commercial airlines do not, since the parent company also makes extensive use of scheduled carriers for regular business travel. “Some 35,000 of the 160,000 [DaimlerChrysler] employees in Germany can be considered as frequent travelers,” marketing director Jonas Kraft told AIN. “The total value of such travel is €180 million ($195 million), where the lion’s share is for air travel.” DaimlerChrysler employees in Germany alone make some 200,000 business trips a year.

Having been the first ACJ operator to receive approval for 120-minute extended-range twin-engine operations (ETOPS) in 2001, DCA is anxious to expand its range of nonstop destinations to include flights from North America to points in, say, North Africa, or from Europe to the Caribbean. “We are working together with Airbus to get 180-minute approval,” said Kraft. At the European Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (EBACE) in Geneva last year, Airbus said it hoped to obtain such clearance by the end of last year, but this approval still had not been obtained at press time.

“There has been no progress and we are a bit angry about that,” said Kraft. DCA believes that, having offered a December 2002 date, Airbus had a duty to meet that target. “We have done our paperwork and it is in Airbus’ hands, so we are frustrated. We needed it in December.”

DCA’s other aircraft are used on a wide variety of short/ultra-long flights among the company’s facilities, including frequent operations to Vittoria, Spain. The remaining fleet consists of a pair of Challenger 604s, three Learjet 60s and a Global Express. All are outfitted with convertible sleeper seats. On behalf of a private owner, DCA also manages the operations of a Paris Le Bourget-based Dassault Falcon 2000.

The 4,000-nm Challenger 604s have nine passenger seats (convertible to four flat beds), while the 12-passenger Global Express can sleep up to six travelers on flights of up to 6,000 nm. As many as seven people can be accommodated on the 2,300-nm Learjet 60s, which each incorporate a two-seat divan/bed.

DCA is run as a profit center with charter, Flexjet Europe and aircraft management operations offsetting direct costs of in-house travel. “We have to make a profit, but under certain circumstances [for example, following the September 11 terrorist attacks] safety and security are always first priority,” said Kraft. The fleet is used principally by DaimlerChrysler board members, but all employees have access to the transatlantic shuttle service. Representative “benchmark” commercial airline prices are charged to internal departments for seats on the ACJ, while use of other aircraft is billed at market rates for business jet charter.

Learjet 60s Often Chartered by Others
On the charter front, the smaller, shorter-range Learjet 60s are used most frequently by other parties, although the longer-legged Challengers, Falcons and Global Express generate the most hours in such activity. But since its own aircraft cannot serve all airports, even when fully available, DCA often has to outsource capacity. For example, flights to airports such as Essen, Mannheim and London City are off-limits to the fleet for operational reasons.

The company is thought to employ almost 200 people, but will not confirm numbers relating to the business. About 40 percent of DCA employees are understood to be captains or copilots, with a similar proportion employed in maintenance. ACJ and Falcon 2000 pilots are trained in Europe, while those who fly the Challengers, Global Express and Learjets have to fly to North America for type or recurrent training.

Like most European operators, DCA is concerned about the additional cost and particularly lost work time involved every time a pilot crosses the Atlantic for training. The company draws its pilots from a wide backdrop of military, commercial and general aviation experience, and since its establishment five years ago none have left its corporate operations to join the airlines, according to Kraft.

The Stuttgart operator would not disclose details of load factors, aircraft utilization or routes, but did say it expects to see aircraft use increase by 10 to 15 percent this year. Kraft conceded that introduction of the Global Express has led to an increase in long-haul activity, “but we are not discussing destinations.”