Flight planning and support group Universal Weather & Aviation (Booth No. 2516) has largely built its reputation on its 50 years of experience and harnessing technology to make life easier for business aircraft operators. But now the U.S.-based group is looking to upgrade the quality of its ground handling facilities in some 20 countries around the world, starting at London Stansted Airport, where it last month took the wraps off a comprehensively refurbished FBO.
The impetus to spend just over $1 million on a facelift for a 28-year-old facility that until now would not have won any beauty contests appears to have been inspired by the recent arrival of two new competitors at Stansted. These are Mohammed Al Fayed’s new Fayair FBO and the Diamond Hangar facility trading under the Aero Toy Store brand. Universal Aviation already competes with Harrods Aviation and Inflite Jet Centre at the London airport.
Universal Aviation’s 10,712-sq-ft facility features crew and passenger lounges, as well as a business center with video conferencing capability, two meeting rooms, a flight planning center, as well as showers and changing rooms. The FBO features interiors developed by internationally-recognized designer Adriana Hoyos, whose previous clients include Donald Trump.
Universal Weather & Aviation chairman Greg Evans told AIN that similar investments will be made at other handling operations around the world. The most recent additions to its FBO network are Venice in Italy and Girona in Spain, bringing its total bases in Europe to 11.
But bricks and mortar and interior designers apart, Evans argued that what sets Universal Aviation apart as an ally for its globe-trotting clients is the almost 2,000 employees it has stationed around the world and the strength of their local expertise. “But getting our customers to where they are going is only part of it, we also want to have the right amenities in place when they get there,” he said.
Like other handling companies, Universal isn’t in a position to operate a full-blown FBO in many of the locations where it has support staff, but it does find ways to deliver handling using whatever facilities are at its disposal. Shanghai Hongqiao Airport is a case in point, and here it operates from the Hawker Pacific FBO. The same is true at Tokyo’s Narita Airport, from the new business aviation terminal there. Other Universal Aviation bases around the world include Singapore, Mexico City’s Toluca Airport, Milan and Rome in Italy, Paris and Nice in France, Dublin and Shannon in Ireland, Delhi, Mumbai and Chennai in India, Sydney and Perth in Australia and China’s capital Beijing.
Overall, Evans concluded that 2012 has so far proved to be a “mixed bag” in terms of trading conditions. “Asia has seen some growth but it has become a bit softer in the last three months,” he told AIN. “Europe has had its problems and is still down, but the Latin American and Middle East markets have been as robust as they were in 2011. The U.S. is hot and cold–some companies are flying more than ever and others aren’t flying at all but overall it’s good, even though there are no patterns [worldwide] that you could convert into trends.”
In addition to its Houston headquarters, Universal Aviation has regional trip support operations centers in London, Singapore and Sao Paulo, Brazil. Evans accepted that there could be a case for setting up another operation in the Middle East or somewhere else in western Asia, but he wouldn’t speculate on where or when this might transpire.