For its annual conference, which took place on March 9 just before the UK triggered the process to leave the European Union, the British Business and General Aviation Association (BBGA) chose “Embracing Change.” Brexit was “high on the agenda,” said the association’s CEO Marc Bailey.
In his opening address at the new venue, the Luton Hoo Hotel, BBGA chairman Marwan Khalek highlighted the challenges the newly bolstered 174-member association faces, including airspace access, heightened regulation and the threatened closure of general aviation airports in favor of housing.
Khalek was not all down-beat, however. He noted that EASA had finally granted approval for single engine turboprops (SETOps) to be cleared for use under an AOC for commercial charter in IFR conditions.
He said that the market had experienced an uptick in traffic from UK airports to mainland Europe of 3 percent, according to the latest (February 2017) statistics from WingX Advance–equivalent to 126 daily movements. Of the top 20 performing European business aviation airports, five are in the UK: Luton; Farnborough; London Biggin Hill; London Oxford and Northolt.
BBGA CEO Marc Bailey noted the significance of the association’s new accord with EBAA, with existing UK EBAA members automatically becoming members of BBGA, while new EBAA members join via BBGA.
Martin Rolfe, CEO of UK air navigation service provider NATS, emphasized that changes in airspace are now critical to handling increased traffic growth in the UK. London in particular is a buoyant market, he added, accounting for 78,000 movements in 2016. Rolfe noted that the current five-year regulatory term implemented by the government does not provide the flexibility the industry requires to progress with airspace changes.
A Brexit panel included UK CAA chief executive Andrew Haines, Mark Bisset from law firm Clyde & Co, and Sir Gerald Howarth, Member of Parliament for Aldershot, near Farnborough. Howarth noted that Britain’s aviation industry is in a strong position, with 40 percent of U.S.–to-EU traffic coming in via the UK. He urged members of the conference audience be vocal ahead of Brexit and speak up (at the time it was not known that UK Prime Minister Theresa May would, in mid-April, call for a General Election on June 8).
Haines said that he preferred no change to European legislation until the UK leaves the EU, but noted the political nature of Brexit meant there could be no meaningful assurances about how things might turn out.
A later session looked at how BBGA could move forward and better serve its members. Simon Talling-Smith, CEO of Surf Air, which will bring its U.S. airline subscription model to Europe this year, asserted that 85 percent of its 3,000 members in California came over from commercial airlines. He added he never expected Surf Air to be enjoying a partnership with Lufthansa Miles and More. When it debuts in Europe (under TAG’s AOC), Surf Air is targeting the 5 percent of the European short-haul market that it believes will pay more for a better service. There is currently scant difference between the travel experience on British Airways and that of the low-cost carriers.
Carol Cork, co-founder and director of sales and marketing for PrivateFly, refuted claims that the new business model could the beginning of a “race to the bottom.” She asserted that instead of entering a price war with commercial airlines, the key was to show corporate travelers the convenience—and affordability—that business aviation can deliver.
Edwin Brenninkmeyer, CEO of Oriens Aviation, who sits on the board of Linear Air in the U.S. alongside his role as UK sales distributor for the Pilatus PC-12, said Linear was attracting customers from commercial airlines through an innovative partnership with digital sales platform, Kayak.
EBAA president Brian Humphries observed that the more people learned about business aviation, the more they appeared to appreciate the industry. He urged members to be more vocal about what they do, and in turn help EBAA’s own Face-to-Face five-year perception campaign, unveiled in Brussels at its 40th annual general meeting held at the beginning of March.
In the association’s April newsletter, Bailey said of Brexit: “With Article 50 triggered on March 29, the expected two-year timeslot for these negotiations is finally underway. All kinds of topics, from trade to immigration—and airspace—will be discussed as part of the UK redefining its relationship with the EU.
“But as part of this, there’s increasing uncertainty about Britain’s position in the global business and general aviation market. Single skies and maintaining close ties with Europe are of paramount importance, which is why we are extremely pleased to have entered into a formal partnership with [EBAA].
“None of us can predict the outcome of the discussions taking place, but we see a development like this as extremely positive. It strengthens our connections with our European friends, and will hopefully offer some reassurance to businesses on both sides of the Channel.”
After welcoming EASA clearance for SETOps, he said, “We can’t ignore, however, that a number of small general aviation airfields are under threat of closure in favor of housing, several in the Southeast of the UK.
“How can we play our part to help secure the 400,000 new pilots our industry needs over the next decade if we lose our airfields? This is an important issue, and we are working with GAAC [the General Aviation Awareness Council] and AOPA UK in this regard. Hopefully the government is not so engrossed in Brexit to see the potential with this and SETOps.
Bailey turned to BBGA: “To serve our membership better, we’re implementing change from the inside out with help from corporate behavior specialists…We are working toward five new core values: commitment, collaboration, integrity, resourcefulness and respect, and we will present our new visions and values later this year.