London Luton Airport has a new FBO in the shape of the new Ocean Sky Jet Centre, which opened last month. The facility is the first of several FBOs that the UK-based group intends to open in Europe.
Ocean Sky, which is also active in executive charter, already has FBOs at Prestwick in Scotland (catering mainly to transatlantic technical stop traffic) and another at Manchester (the former Northern Executive Aviation, which is a Bombardier authorized service center). The company has signed a lease on the facility formerly occupied by Harrods Aviation and which is situated on Luton’s south ramp, immediately parallel to the runway.
The new operator has widened the main entrance and has added additional car parking space. The facility is split between an operations building with a crew lounge and a separate VIP area, featuring a bar in the center. “There has definitely been a ‘wow’ factor from those who have used it so far,” said newly appointed Ocean Sky Jet Centre CEO Steve Grimes. “It now has a much more contemporary look than before.”
According to Grimes, traffic levels have slowly started to recover after a steep and sudden downturn in the final quarter of 2008. Quite apart from the effects of the economic crisis, he said that Luton–located 30 miles north of central London–had lost traffic in recent years due to a squeeze on slot capacity caused by rapid growth among low-cost airlines. It has also been hurt by serious delays caused by long-running engineering work on the main M1 highway into London, but this issue is now resolved.
In fact, Grimes maintained that the downturn in business aviation activity has created a window of opportunity for Ocean Sky which might not otherwise have had the chance to establish a third FBO at Luton in competition with both Harrods and Signature Flight Support. Ocean Sky’s main backer is a group of trust companies based in Luxembourg, which he said has a long-term approach to its investment in the sector.
“This [recession] is a good time to be building an [FBO] platform because opportunities are opening up at airports in Europe that would not have been there recently,” said Grimes.
Slot availability at Luton is still somewhat restricted during the peak hours of 6:30 a.m. to 8 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. but Grimes claimed that even during these hours it is still possible for business aircraft to operate. He argued that the other two FBOs have had to turn away traffic during peak times because of limited ramp space. Ocean Sky is leasing its own ramp area and also intends to provide hangar accommodation through a third party. Eventually, it may secure its own hangar building.
The company has invested in its own fuel truck and will sell Shell Jet-A directly to avoid delivery delays for operators. It intends to compete primarily on service quality with Luton’s established FBO and will differentiate itself with new offerings such as complimentary back and neck massages for passengers and crew.
“We are targeting the top-notch niche in the market,” said Grimes. In particular, Ocean Sky is looking to attract operators who started to avoid Luton during the crowded boom years but who now appear willing to come back. One of the new FBO’s first customers was a VIP-configured Embraer 195 jetliner.
The new FBO has 28 staff, having recruited experienced personnel from other FBOs as well as from airlines such as British Airways and Virgin Atlantic. Grimes is here at EBACE (Booth No. 1251) with the company’s new sales and marketing director, Nathalie Raper, who formerly worked for Luton Airport itself.