London Executive Aviation (LEA) has become the latest European business aircraft operator to join a group after predictions in recent years that consolidation would be necessary for survival in an increasingly competitive marketplace. The company has signed a deal with Luxaviation, of Luxembourg, “cementing Luxaviation’s position as one of Europe’s largest business aviation groups,” according to LEA. The deal was completed on 7 May having been signed on 7 April.
LEA joins Unijet of France and Belgium’s Abelag in becoming part of Luxaviation group, which also has an operation in Germany (from its acquisition of FairJets) and a commercial office in Singapore, which it hopes it will be a springboard to expansion in Asia Pacific.
Bringing LEA’s fleet of 27 aircraft under the Luxaviation umbrella creates a combined fleet of 90 aircraft from King Airs to Globals, Patrick Margetson-Rushmore told AIN during a flying visit to LEA’s headquarters at Stapleford Airport, northeast of London, the week before EBACE. He added that Luxaviation has bought a significant stake in LEA but that he and George Galanopoulous, two of LEA’s co-founders, would continue in their current positions running the company, with the LEA name being retained. New branding is being developed to reflect the new ownership structure.
Patrick Hansen, co-CEO of Luxaviation Group, commented at EBACE: “The integration of London Executive Aviation…represents a further important step in our international growth strategy and superbly complements Luxaviation’s market-leading operations in Germany, France, Belgium and Luxembourg.”
LEA said in a statement that the company would “retain its identity, leadership and operational independence while benefiting from valuable synergies within the group. These benefits include economies of scale in the purchasing of fuel, insurance, training and other significant cost areas; increased aircraft availability and utilization within the group, with a broader range of aircraft types; and collaboration with other group companies to enhance best practice in all operational areas.”
Margetson-Rushmore was keen to highlight that LEA had “not been bought out” but that the company had for a while been “interested to be part of a larger group to get the benefits.” He and Galanopoulos were clearly excited at the prospect that LEA could now get long-range aircraft itself, such as Globals and Gulfstreams, by learning from the likes of Abelag. At present the largest aircraft LEA operates is a Dassault Falcon 2000, and it also has Beechcraft King Airs, Cessna Citation Mustangs, Embraer Legacys and Bombardier Challenger 300s.
LEA is a significant boost for the Luxaviation group; not only does it add the UK’s largest business aircraft operator to the group, it also brings a charter team that provides around 250 quotes a day. “We probably do as many quotes as the rest of the group put together,” said Galanopoulos. “We have a very charterable fleet.” All but one of LEA’s fleet is available for charter, and it manages the aircraft for their owners, rather than owning them itself. The combined group will have 450 employees, including the 115 from LEA.
Margetson-Rushmore, who like Galanopoulos is an experienced pilot and is focused more on developing LEA, said that the company has “probably had 10 or 12 approaches in recent years, but you can’t put a square peg in a round hole.” Only when Luxaviation approached it in January did LEA finally find a partner that operated and thought the same “flexible” way as it did.
Galanopoulos concluded by saying the deal would “benefit everybody.” o
Patrick Hansen, CEO of Lux Aviation, who like LEA’s Patrick Margetson-Rushmore has a background in “venture capital and M&A,” said the company had started with one jet 5 years ago, “but it was clear immediately that we wouldn’t make any money.” So the company analysed the business aviation market in Europe, where most operators had very few aircraft (250 with one aircraft and another 100 with fewer than four). It became clear from this that consolidation was the only way to profitability. “So we started consolidation in 2011 when we took control of Fairjet and then Abelag and Unijet and now LEA.”
He confirmed that Lux Aviation had taken a 70 percent stake in LEA with the founders retaining the other 30 percent. Lux Aviation now has more than 90 aircraft under 5 AOCs, including one in Singapore with an Embraer Legacy and a Challenger 604. “And we’re working on the next three.”
Hansen told AIN yesterday here at EBACE that Asia had been the company’s focus for some time but it kept finding opportunities to acquire companies in Europe which had a similar mindset, although very few pass the test of being “cash flow positive,” he said.
Hansen believes that the market in Europe will “most likely consolidate more and more” and fears for small operators that don’t take part, because they won’t be able to keep their cost base low enough to compete or handle the increasing amount of legislation and regulation that operators must cope with.
One condition of the acquisition of LEA is that the company will acquire new aircraft. “They have to build their fleet,” said Hansen–and that is LEA’s ambition anyway. By having a broader range of types Hansen believes Lux Aviation is now more attractive to aircraft owners wishing to have their aircraft managed and offered for charter. In addition, charter customers get lots of benefits–and this includes support in AOG situations (LEA is now the largest operator of Embraer Lagacys, for example, with 11).