Gold Air International has ordered two new Bombardier Global 5000s in a deal valued at close to $80 million. The UK executive charter operator is to receive the long-range jets between late 2008 and early 2009, allowing it to take on full-blown intercontinental missions.
Meanwhile, the company has nearly completed changing over its existing Learjet 45 fleet, in accordance with its policy of replacing all its light jets every five years (or sooner). Bombardier’s new Learjet 45XR will take the place of the original 45s at a total cost of $55 million.
According to managing director Will Curtis, Gold Air wanted an aircraft that could take advantage of the increasing demand for flights from Europe to the former Soviet republics, the Middle East and China, as well as for transatlantic trips. He believes there is greater potential for long-range executive charter in Europe than in the U.S. because of the rapid opening up of business opportunities on the eastern fringes of the continent.
In addition to the Global 5000, which will have a 15-seat cabin configuration, Gold Air also evaluated Dassault’s Falcon 900EX and the Gulfstream 450. Curtis said the company chose the Global 5000 largely for its runway performance (5,000-foot balanced field length), range (4,800 nm with NBAA IFR reserves and eight passengers) and cabin size (294-sq-ft area and 6.25-foot height). The operator also favored a Bombardier product because of its positive experience with the Learjet 45s and the advantageous trade-in terms.
“The service from Bombardier has been fantastic,” said Curtis. “They have bent over backward to help us, and this was a big factor.” In fact, while he argued that rival Gulfstream is the “industry acknowledged benchmark” for product support, Curtis concluded that Bombardier deserves credit for candidly acknowledging some on-going shortcomings in this area.
“Bombardier has made a massive investment, both financially and in terms of manpower, in introducing six new aircraft types in less than a decade–a remarkable achievement,” said Curtis. “That process is now complete and they are turning their considerable resources toward product support. We expect to see them return to the top of the product support surveys in a year or two.”
Gold Air found the first six Learjet 45s economical to run under the five-year warranty program for which it signed up. This also helped to bolster the aircraft’s residual value. Each of the 45s had logged around 3,200 hours when it was traded in.
According to Curtis, customers are becoming increasingly discerning about the age of the aircraft they fly. He believes Gold Air’s insistence on replacing aircraft at or before five years’ service has created a significant product differentiator for it in the European charter market. In his experience, clients quickly realize how much quieter the cabins of the younger aircraft are and become reluctant to settle for older types. “Many other operators are just soldiering on with older aircraft,” he told EBACE Convention News.
New technical requirements such as mode-S transponders and PRnav (precision area navigation) have also bolstered Gold Air’s belief in the merits of replacing aircraft well within their service life. For instance, to operate in Europe, the Learjet 45s would soon have had to upgrade to the PRnav standard.
The Gold Air managing director hopes that the increasing authority of the European Aviation Safety Agency will put an end to the days when business aircraft operators could count on repeated exemptions and delays for complying with new technical requirements. He believes the charter industry has been held back by national aviation authorities delaying the introduction of new equipment. He said that in 2002 the threat of legal action by Gold Air prevented the UK Civil Aviation Authority from rolling back the mandate for enhanced ground proximity warning systems.
Curtis also said the Learjet 45XR has an important performance edge over even newer bizjet rivals in the same class. “It [the 45XR] is quick in the climb and cruise phases so that in real terms it is 100 knots faster than a [Cessna Citation] Bravo and 50 knots faster than an Excel,” he claimed. “This means that it is 50 minutes faster than the Bravo on the flight from London to Malaga [on the south coast of Spain] and 20 minutes faster than the Excel.”
In addition to offering ad hoc charter, Gold Air also markets flight time in blocks of 25, 50, 100 and 400 hours, with customers receiving discounts of between 7 and 10 percent for booking this way. Block charter clients now account for about 50 percent of its flying.
The operator, which is based at London’s Biggin Hill Airport, also flies for Bombardier’s Skyjet International block charter program. Curtis said this affiliation now comprises a substantial part of its operations, but he maintained that there is no conflict with its own services. In fact, with Bombardier’s blessing, Gold Air has signed up Skyjet customers for its own block charter terms. The manufacturer has said it established Skyjet with the intention of getting more people flying in its aircraft, boosting demand for those aircraft in the charter market and helping today’s charter customers become tomorrow’s aircraft owners.