Hex’Air finds opportunity in ERJ-135 charter operations

 - May 29, 2008, 7:07 AM

Since mid-September, a French operator  has been flying the first Embraer ERJ-135 dedicated to charter in Europe. The Chambéry-based firm feels it has filled a gap in charter capacity. The twinjet, registered F-GYPE, is operated by  Hex’Air, a small airline whose sister company, executive charter operator Pan Européenne Air Service, markets it alongside its own business aircraft.

“We have had three types of customers since entry into service,” Gilles Dubois, Pan Européenne’s sales director, told AIN. Sports teams and business-related trips by company teams and prospective clients account for most flights. Business trips have also included carrying journalists to product launches. Airlines are the third category of customer. They employ F-GYPE for ad hoc fleet replacement purposes. However, airline demand has fallen sharply since September 11–the only part of the company’s business to have been negatively affected, according to Dubois.

“Our strategy is to fill the gap in charter aircraft of this size on the business trip market,” Dubois explained. An old, 24-seat Grumman GI has retired from the charter market, and a company that used to operate 42-seat ATRs has gone bankrupt. “There is a real demand for 30- to 40-seat aircraft,” Dubois told AIN. “We considered other aircraft in this segment, but we found the ERJ-135 to be the best in terms of performances and reputation.”

Hex’Air’s ERJ-135 has a standard 37-seat cabin layout. The aircraft carries no special executive equipment–there is no telephone on board, for example. Hex’Air operates F-GYPE with two pilots and one flight attendant. “So far, we have been using a contract pilot, but our mid-term plans call for having both pilots come from our team,” Dubois emphasized. As an ERJ-135LR, the aircraft “has 1,350-nm range with 37 passengers.” While many flights typically run about one hour, Dubois told AIN, some last as long as 2 hr 30 min; the longest flight logged yet was 3 hr 50 min.

Hex’Air and Pan Européenne intend to log about 1,000 hr per year with the new jet. The French Alps-based operators took delivery of F-GYPE on September 12 and launched its first commercial flight one week later. Pan Européenne Air Service operates one Beech King Air 300 and one Beech 1900D. “They log about 600 and 1,000 flight hours per year respectively,” Dubois told AIN. Sister company Hex’Air also operates two Beech 1900Ds on scheduled flights. Hex’Air has been one of France’s smallest airlines, its twice-daily services linking Le Puy and Paris, and Castres and Lyon via Rodez. Hex’Air and Pan Européenne have a common maintenance base in Chambéry and a sales office in Lyon.

According to a Paris-based Embraer spo-kesman, Hex’Air is the only European carrier that operates an Embraer regional jet exclusively on charter flights. He added that the company holds an option for another ERJ-135, but Dubois would not comment. “However, other ERJ operators sometimes provide companies with charter flights–for press events, for example,” the Embraer spokesman pointed out. Paris Le Bourget-based Occitania planned to take delivery of an ERJ-135 last year and another this year (AIN, March 2001, page 46), but the operator had to postpone both airplanes because of a serious dip in its product-launch and airline wet-lease operations. Since Hex’Air took delivery of its Embraer jet, Occitania on occasion has leased F-GYPE to meet the needs of its own customers.