Following a “rollercoaster couple of years”, 2022 has underlined the resilience of the UK’s business aviation sector. Speaking at a briefing sponsored by Hung & Palmer during this year’s British Business and General Aviation Association (BBGA’s) annual conference, stakeholders agreed that following a successful 2022 the year ahead looks set to continue on the same positive trajectory.

George Galanopoulos, Chair and CEO of Luxaviation declared that as a group Luxaviation performed well last year, welcoming six aircraft to its global fleet, five available for charter from a Bombardier Global 5000 to a Beechcraft King Air 200. “This has led to a positive outlook for 2023. The effects of Brexit have got better, although some countries are more challenging that others.”

Gus Paterson, COO of Centreline, agreed saying that despite experiencing two of the most difficult years, his group had doubled in size. Pula Aviation Services acquired Wycombe-based AirParts and the remnants of Capital Air Ambulance, enabling Centreline to add aeromedical capability to its services. The company was also successful with an MoD bid to source and procure two VIP aircraft and bring them into service. In addition, Pula Aviation Services is extending its Part 145 capability in Guernsey to Northolt Airport.

Meanwhile, Alex Durand, CEO of SaxonAir¬† which also runs the Business Aviation Centre and hangar facility at Norwich Airport reported that revenue is up. “Our hangar space is full of tenants and our operations, especially helicopter charter (which has grown where airlines and train operators have reduced their services) is doing well.” He added that SaxonAir just sold its new Leonardo AW109SP Grand and expects to increase its managed helicopter fleet from five to 10 aircraft this year. A new Embraer Phenom 300, available for charter from London Oxford Airport has just joined its managed fixed wing fleet.

Similarly, aircraft charter broker, Hunt & Palmer’s Sales Manager, Executive Aviation, Sandy Boyer, revealed his delight at building on Hunt & Palmer’s record year in 2022. He described the first few months of 2023 as being equally strong, especially with large cabin charter to the US from Europe. Significantly, corporates, banks and road shows are coming back. Sister company, Premier Aviation, has also seen increased demand in the music charter market. In the last six months of 2022, it facilitated 30 music tours.

With sustainability a key focus for all stakeholders Boyer also noted that demand for sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) is not as high as it should be, primarily due to cost and availability. Paterson agreed explaining that while Bristol Airport was among the first to offer SAF it is seldom used.

Earlier during the BBGA conference delegates heard that nearly 80 million gallons of SAF were sold in 2022, three times more than in 2021. Yet, putting that into perspective that’s the equivalent of filling up a Boeing 777 1,800 times -the whole B777 fleet. As productivity increases and prices of SAF come down, this will improve, the panel agreed.

There remains some challenges going forward, with staff retention and recruitment being a key one. “We haven’t done enough to promote the attractiveness of our industry, but we pay well and there are a lot of opportunities,” said Galapoulos.

Addressing the perception of business aviation is another ongoing issue. Business aviation is well placed to learn more from its passengers, the panel agreed, because it is closer to them than any airline could be. “If we could ascertain why they are flying and the spend/ inward investment they are putting into the UK, I’m sure it would give us evidence that one business jet arrival brings more GDP into a UK region than a full Ryanair flight,” suggested Durand. “We are enablers in business aviation.”

As for the lessons learned as a result of the pandemic, Paterson concluded: “More cash is always needed and you can’t always believe what the government tells you. We would all have benefitted from a longer-term view and clarity on what was happening at the time. We took a decision to carry on flying during the pandemic and that was a benefit of being a diverse group.”

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