Piedmont marketing Saab 340 shuttles

 - May 8, 2008, 6:55 AM

Piedmont Hawthorne has entered an agreement with Saab Aircraft Leasing (SAL) to market twin-turboprop Saab 340s for corporate shuttle use. The Winston-Salem, N.C.-based business aviation services group will seek corporate buyers and lessors for the Swedish-built regional airliners and will also refurbish the interiors and provide maintenance.

The Saab 340s are being offered with 27 leather seats to make the cabins more comfortable than the standard 34-seat airliner configuration. Piedmont is now completing a demonstrator shuttle aircraft.

SAL chief executive Michael Magnusson told AIN that companies, particularly in North America, are increasingly looking to bypass the spiraling delays and fares encountered in the airline industry. He estimated that if a firm needs to move roughly 15 to 18 people between two of its locations on a regular basis, it will almost certainly be more cost effective to start an in-house shuttle operation.

In Magnusson’s view, companies no longer want their employees wasting time and becoming exhausted by the trials and tribulations of the airlines’ hub-and-spoke networks. They also value the fact that staff can conduct business conversations en route without the concern that sensitive information may be overheard. “This is especially true among car manufacturers,” he said.

Piedmont intends to market the corporate shuttle application primarily for firms needing to transport middle managers and engineers. For companies that are reluctant to get directly involved in operating responsibilities, Piedmont will help secure the services of air carriers to run the shuttle services under management or lease contracts.

At any given time, SAL generally has some 15 to 20 Saab 340s in its portfolio, including a mixture of the original A models and the higher- performance B version. The aircraft offer a maximum range of more than 800 nm and cruise at 285 kt.

The purchase price of a used Saab 340A is around $3 million. Lease terms are generally offered for three to five years, with rates varying significantly according to what equipment and services the customer wants to include in the contract.
Piedmont has already sold two Saab 340s for corporate shuttle applications in the U.S. and another to a South African company. North American corporate operators of the aircraft include diesel engine maker Cummins, the Kelly Springfield tire group and the University of Indiana.

Colgan Air operates a shuttle operation for Internet service provider America Online, ferrying employees each day between Washington and both New York City and Columbus, Ohio. America Online’s passengers  use the executive terminals at Washington Dulles International Airport and the New York-area Teterboro Airport, where a bus is used to take staff to AOL Time Warner’s Manhattan office.

In Europe, Sweden’s Golden Air provides a daily Saab 340 shuttle operation for auto manufacturer Volvo. The service connects Gothenburg’s downtown Save Airport with Cologne/Bonn Airport in Germany.

Piedmont has also been involved in the remarketing of three larger twin-turboprop Saab 2000s that General Motors had used for corporate shuttle operations out of its Detroit headquarters between 1995 and the end of last year. Piedmont also has a corporate-configured BAe Jetstream 31 on its books for sale or lease.

The former GM Saab 2000s are fitted with 36 seats (compared with the regional airliner’s standard 50-seat configuration) with low utilization history averaging 2,000 hr and 3,000 cycles. In April, one of the three aircraft was delivered to the Penske corporate flight department, where it will be used to support the group’s Nascar auto-racing team.