PremiAir recommits to bizav support market

 - August 4, 2008, 10:30 AM
After changing hands three times in fairly quick succession over the past decade, the UK’s PremiAir Aircraft Engineering appears to be settling down and renewing its commitment to business aviation. In fact, it was recently appointed by Raytheon Aircraft as an authorized service center for the Premier I.

In November the company was reformed under its new name, after being acquired by Sir Robert McAlpine–the long-established British construction, property and wind energy group. Before this, the firm, which is based at Blackbushe Airport 35 miles southwest of London, had been owned in succession by the Hanson group, Lynton and BBA (encompassing Signature Aircraft Engineering’s Blackbushe and Denham operations). Combined hangar space at Blackbushe and Denham totals 43,000 sq ft, and these facilities are now being upgraded.

PremiAir Aircraft Engineering is now part of the newly formed PremiAir Aviation Group, which also includes the former Signature Helicopters (BBA’s rotorcraft charter and management division) and the former McAlpine Aviation Services (helicopter training and support services), as well as the fixed-wing flight-training operation McAlpine Aviation Training. The group employs about 150 people and is expected to generate revenues of around $28 million this year.

The Premier I service center approval means that PremiAir now offers maintenance for the entire Beechcraft line, including Beechjets, King Airs, Barons and Bonanzas. Its Beechcraft authorization dates back 15 years.

According to group managing director David McRobert, the company has no intention of moving into Raytheon’s larger Hawker product range because it does not want to conflict with the airframer’s own Raytheon Aircraft Services service center at Broughton, UK. Since receiving the approval in late May, the company has worked on six Premier Is.

McRobert predicted that PremiAir does expect to start working on other business jet types, suggesting that new light models such as the Sino Swearingen SJ30-2 and the Eclipse 500 are the most likely candidates since they do not have an established support network in Europe.

In the rotary-wing sector, PremiAir is an authorized service center for both the Sikorsky S-76 and Bell 206, 222 and 430. Independently, the company also maintains Eurocopter AS 350s, AS 355s, AS 365s and EC 155s, as well as MD Helicopters 900/902s and all Agusta A109s. According to McRobert, PremiAir is consciously staying out of the new helicopter sales business because it does not wish to compromise its independence from rotorcraft manufacturers.

PremiAir Aircraft Engineering carries design approval from the UK Civil Aviation Authority and is in the process of getting the equivalent European JAR 21 authority. This has allowed it to develop installations such as a new life-raft system and a blind-flying pilot training screen for a UK EC 135 operator and an avionics modification including satellite communications for an S-76.

PremiAir’s 10-strong helicopter charter fleet includes a mix of owned and managed S-76s, AS 350 and 355 single and twin Squirrels and A109s. It also leases a trio of Twin Squirrels to the Royal Air Force’s Royal Squadron, which operates them for government, VIP and military flights out of London Northolt Airport.

McRobert told AIN that rotorcraft charter services have generally not been effectively marketed in the UK and he has just launched a new sales initiative to encourage firms of all sizes to make greater use of helicopters to circumvent the country’s ever worsening road congestion. The goal is to extend this side of PremiAir’s operations beyond the current peak season of May through September. It has no plans to move into fixed-wing charter operations.

Another opportunity on its doorstep is increased demand for business aircraft handling at Blackbushe Airport. The airfield is located about five miles north of the newly redeveloped Farnborough Airport and offers significantly lower landing and handling fees. However, its shorter runway (4,400 feet) and restricted opening hours mean that it is unlikely to be anything other than a niche alternative to rival London-area airports.

Blackbushe is owned by the British Car Auctions group. PremiAir can provide handling and hangar space there, and has access to its own fuel supply.

Finally, PremiAir Aviation Services has just landed a contract to provide pilots and training for the Surrey police force’s new air-support unit. The UK police department is set to take delivery of a law-enforcement-equipped EC 135, which will start operating from Fairoaks Airport next April. This is PremiAir’s ninth police-support contract.