Capping a bumpy post-pandemic ride, European charter management firm Luxaviation saw record-setting business in the second half of last year. That trend has continued into 2022, Luxaviation UK CEO and Execujet Europe CEO George Galanoupolos told AIN on the eve of EBACE.
The company fulfilled high demand for repatriation flights for some six weeks at the outset of the pandemic lockdown in 2020 before activity “went very quiet,” Galanoupolos said. Then, a summer uptick was halted by a second wave of Covid, and 2021 brought the “quietest months we’ve seen in a long time” before activity erupted in the year’s second half, exceeding all-time highs. The record-setting activity reflects the charter market’s strong rebound and “applies to all our competitors,” he said.
Luxaviation has also seen more requests for aircraft management, recently adding a new Bombardier Global 6500 based in the UK and an Embraer Legacy 500 in France to bolster its European charter fleet. The company also opened an office at Mandelieu Airport in Cannes to drive its “ambitious growth plans" throughout the Côte d'Azur area.
But as far as meeting the unprecedented post-pandemic charter demand, “I don't think the market has a solution,” Galanoupolos said. “On the positive side, the price has gone back to a sensible level. Now operators aren’t undercutting each other anymore.”
The industry has also witnessed a surge in consolidation since the pandemic’s onset, as large operators acquire complementary providers—activity driven in part by large infusions of private investment capital that sees business aviation as a growth arena. Asked about the impacts on lift availability, Galanoupolos said, “I don't think it makes a difference; the availability remains the same.
“It's very hard for a small operator to survive today,” he added, predicting the roll-up trend will continue. “If you look at the infrastructure an operator needs these days to operate an air operator certificate (AOC), the regulations and requirements, it’s very hard for an operator with four or five aircraft to make a profit. Luxaviation itself is “always looking for acquisitions if they fit our business model.”
As for the economic impact of the war in Ukraine, “Though Russians are a good part of the overall European charter market, the [regional] demand is still so strong that I can't see it having any effect,” Galanoupolos said. However, the company had to ground four Russian-owned aircraft it manages due to sanctions. “At the moment, we cannot provide service according to the manufacturer's recommendation,” he said. “Clearly those aircraft will not be flying.”
Luxaviation has informed the UK CAA that “as an AOC operator, we have a responsibility to look after the continuous airworthiness of the aircraft. [But] if by law, we are not allowed to provide any services, then we can’t fulfill our responsibilities,” he said.
The company has sought permission to put the aircraft into long-term storage under subcontract and was awaiting a “clear answer” from authorities as EBACE approached. “The industry does need some clear guidance of what we are allowed and we aren’t allowed to do,” he said, noting the large numbers of aircraft under sanctions. “We think the preservation of the value of the asset makes sense from everyone's perspective. Otherwise, they will become junk.”
The Luxembourg-based company, founded in 2009, acquired the larger Execujet in 2015, and the two brands have largely coexisted since but are now merging identities under the Luxaviation brand “to stop confusing people,” Galanoupolos said. But Execujet’s FBO network of some two dozen VIP terminals worldwide will retain its name, as will its flight operations in Australia, Dubai, and South Africa, where the Execujet brand is well established. Luxaviation also owns UK-based rotorcraft lift providers Luxaviation Helicopters and Starspeed.
Luxaviation is, again, purposefully not exhibiting at EBACE this year, which it publicly withdrew from in 2019, citing the high costs of displaying. “Patrick [Hansen, CEO] has made a point that we will not attend until the price is a bit more sensible,” Galanoupolos said. “I think we’ll revisit that next year and speak to the organizers about the prices; we will certainly consider exhibiting.”
The company is also establishing a footprint in the advanced air mobility (AAM) arena. On this front, it has formed partnerships to develop solutions for all-electric and hybrid-electric vertical takeoff and landing support infrastructure, as well as fixed-wing commuter aircraft, which will “transform the way we travel.”
Under a memorandum of understanding with Rolls-Royce announced in February, the engine manufacturer will develop electrification solutions, maintenance support services, and digital solutions for Luxaviation Group’s planned network of vertiports, including charging and energy infrastructure and electric aircraft maintenance provision.
A seven-year partnership with French engineering and airport infrastructure firm EDEIS unveiled in December will “develop a more sustainable and decarbonized approach to business aviation and regional mobility,” Luxaviation said. Involving 16 FBOs in the EDEIS regional airport networks, the collaboration aims for common deployment of AAM among those facilities, with pilot programs to be announced this year.
And last May, German AAM developer Lilium tapped Luxaviation to support planned European operations of its eVTOL, which is scheduled for certification in 2025. The charter management company will secure required operational approvals, manage pilots, and take charge of Lilium’s customer experience.