Abu Dhabi-based charter operator Royal Jet has launched a tender to refurbish six BBJs that are approaching 15 years of age, and, longer-term, intends to place orders for multiple new aircraft, deliveries of which are unlikely before 2022 at the earliest, CEO Rob DiCastri, told AIN in early November.
“On [October 31], we launched a tender for all six aircraft, to refurbish four of them and put high-speed Wi-Fi on all six,” he said. “We've gone out to eight different outfitters for the [equipment], and we're going to be closing that bid at the end of this month. We hope soon after that to get the design process going... That's probably a $20 million project to refresh [the fleet].”
Royal Jet operates a total of eight BBJs, two of which were delivered new in December 2016, bringing the total fleet to 10 aircraft, with the inclusion of two Global 5000s. “The [original] six [BBJs] are [almost] 20 years old,” he said. “We need to do something about that situation.”
He said the company is also at the advanced stages of discussions with both Airbus and Boeing on the purchase of new aircraft. “So multiple aircraft over multiple years to get our fleet to the point where it's a mix of newer and older aircraft. We have customers that are willing to pay [to use] the brand-new aircraft. The older aircraft are fine as long as the configurations are good and the interiors are nice.”
The operator may also induct preowned aircraft into the fleet until orders for new aircraft go ahead. “We can't be too picky and say, ‘We're only going to buy BBJs,’” he said. “We're looking for a couple of those under the radar right now. We haven't hired a broker. We're just searching the market ourselves.”
Change is afoot after Royal Jet moved into new headquarters adjacent to Abu Dhabi International Airport this year. Three new board members have been appointed, including a woman. “We're heading into a new era. We're just getting the board up to speed with the plans that we've been making and some of the initiatives we've been moving ahead with, but it's really another signal of a new era. There's lots of tweaking, making the company more efficient, making sure our customers are happy, bringing back some of the customers we used to have, and getting the financial foundation as strong as possible.
“We’re in a really strong position. We have a better cash situation than we've ever had. We've had record profitability for 2016, 2017, and 2018 and it's another record already in 19. We've already overperformed 2018, as of September, so we have a final quarter to go even further. We're just controlling costs better than we ever had. And we're bringing utilization to a higher level.”
The core business at Royal Jet has always been charter. “VIP charter, in particular, has been 70 percent of our business,” he said. “[Today, the customer base] is more diverse. We're flying a lot more heads of state from other countries than ever. We're still doing as much business as before with The Presidential Flight, but it's a smaller percentage overall.”