Aviaxess brings FBO services to Paris heliport

 - December 19, 2007, 6:17 AM

Aviaxess, a company that has been offering helicopter and business jet charter since early 2002, is trying to create a market for FBO-type services at Paris Issy-les-Moulineaux Heliport. The firm focuses on selling 25-hour blocks of charter that can be used in a number of European locations, either on helicopters or business airplanes. Aviaxess is also a sales representative for Bombardier’s Flexjet fractional ownership program.

The March inception of the first FBO at the Paris heliport is the latest challenge for Frédéric Aguettant, the company’s CEO. He explained that one of the problems the company is trying to overcome is introducing the idea of a full-service FBO for heliports to the public.

“On the one hand, frequent users of the Paris heliport are accustomed to paying $10 for a very low level of service, so they find ours expensive at $50 to $100; on the other hand, we can provide taxis and limos, telephone, wifi Internet access, aircraft cleaning, fuel, hangar parking as well as a lounge and a conference room, so our target customer is the foreign traveler passing through Paris,” Aguettant told AIN.

Aviaxess’ core business is its 25-hour program, mainly for rotorcraft flight hours. The company emphasizes that the block charter program is different from fractional ownership programs. “A helicopter is much more affordable than a business jet, so fractional programs for a helicopter do not make sense. Those who use a helicopter often simply want to have their own,” Aguettant asserted. He sees block charter as a tailored solution for the helicopter transport market. Customers who buy a block of hours under the Aviaxess program are guaranteed immediate availability and easy conversion from one type to another, or even conversion from helicopter hours to airplane hours, Eric Honinckx, the company’s sales manager, told AIN.

Aviaxess got its own air operator certificate last January. It currently operates six helicopters. A network of charter operator partners allows the company to offer another 35 helicopters, based “in European capital cities,” along with 50 jets, provided by Flexjet and other partners.

The company’s relationship with Bombardier is not exclusive. “We do not just charter Learjets and Challengers,” Honinckx said. “At the beginning, we wanted to offer Bombardier products exclusively but we understood that we would then miss some sales,” Aguettant added.

The helicopters Aviaxess operates are being managed for private customers. The company recently added an Agusta A109 Power to the previously all-Eurocopter fleet: one EC 130B4 and four Ecureuils–two AS 350B2s, one AS 350BA and one AS 355N. On average, the fleet is less than three years old, the company says.

In one year, the company’s roster of staff grew from two to 10. “Six people are here full-time and four are part-timers,” Aguettant said. The company has two full-time and three part-time pilots. “We are still in the starting phase,” Aguettant pointed out. Between July 2 and 4, the company’s size temporarily rocketed to 120 employees. Aviaxess was both the official carrier of the Formula 1 Grand Prix de France and the manager of the Nevers Magny-Cours Heliport. In three days, 3,200 passengers used the 80 helicopters and 10 jets operated or chartered by Aviaxess–some 800 aircraft movements.

In its first fiscal year, which lasted 18 months and ended on September 30 last year, Aviaxess had revenues of $1.992 million (E1.660 million) and yielded a net profit of $107,000 (E89,000), a margin of 5.2 percent. “We serve approximately 100 customers regularly, some 15 of whom have bought blocks of hours,” Aguettant told AIN. He declined to give a figure for the flight hours these customers account for each year.

The environment in which Aviaxess operates is challenging, as it is for all other helicopter operators in Paris. Local residents regularly complain about noise, and regulations are sometimes hard to understand. For example, Paris is the only capital city in the world where air ambulance night operations are prohibited. In addition, security concerns are high on the operators’ list of obstacles to business. “A few months ago, we were denied a flight from Issy to Le Bourget airport for so-called security reasons, although the passenger was a famous person,” Aguettant noted.