Senior private aviation executives gathered at the Luton Hoo hotel in Bedfordshire for the BBGA conference. Stephanie Taylor reports from the aviation trade association’s annual event.

Flying privately is about to become significantly more accessible to businesses. Why? Because the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) recently announced plans to relax the rules for night and IFR (bad weather) passenger and cargo flights using single engine turboprop (SETP) aircraft.

Much less expensive to operate than business jets due to cheaper landing fees and a whole host of other factors, aircraft types include the Cessna Caravan and the Pilatus PC-12, with the latter still spacious enough to accommodate up to nine passengers in a comfortable, pressurised cabin.

SETPs have been flying passengers commercially in the US since the 1990s. In the US,  California’s Surf Air has been using the PC-12 for three years to support its membership model (a subscription fee of $2,000 per month that allows for unlimited flying). Simon Talling Smith, the company’s CEO, says that 85 per cent of Surf Air’s 3,000 members have migrated across from commercial airlines, with a large proportion coming from LCC Southwest. Surf Air is planning to launch operations in Europe from May 2017.

While Neil Harvey, director of executive aviation for Hunt & Palmer – which has been in operation for 30 years – acknowledges his company’s attitude is in keeping with the more traditional charter broker, he still thinks SETPs will be a “fantastic addition to the market.”

However, Harvey is sceptical the new SETPs regulations will be taken advantage of fully from the proposed date of 21 March 2017, saying, “there still needs to be some restriction on what routing SETPs can make. In my view that’s not particularly clear just yet. It will come, but in the initial phase I think there will be a lot of planning needed by the operator to fly in IFR conditions.”

Even if the advent of SETPs opens the EU business aviation market to a new type of customer, the concept of chartering an aircraft privately, no matter its size, can seem intimidating to someone who hasn’t done so before. One thing the BBGA annual meeting highlighted was that the industry can appear elitist, but this does seem to be changing.

Edwin Brenninkmeyer, CEO of Oriens Aviation (the UK sales representative for Pilatus PC-12 aircraft) and board member of Linear Air in the US, said that when corporate travel buyers search on the Kayak website, Linear’s business jet charter options appear. This provides a direct comparison with commercial aviation offerings.

Gama Aviation’s Duncan Daines also said business aviation was entering an interesting era with the advent of International Air Transport Association’s New Distribution Capability (NDC) platform, whereby commercial airlines can more easily advertise ancillaries, inferring he believes it could open new doors for business aviation too.

Watch this space…

All this is exciting, but Martin Rolfe, National Air Traffic Services (NATS) chief executive, made it very clear that without a significant change to airspace in the next five years, we won’t be able to accommodate the increasing number of aircraft movements taking place, private or commercial. He claimed London is currently the busiest city for business aviation movements in the world, with 78,000 movements in 2016 alone.

Brexit is another looming threat to business aviation, which is finally seeing signs of growth after a stagnant few years. Gerald Howarth, MP for Aldershot, told the BBGA delegates gathered in Luton that the country is in a strong position, with 40 per cent of US–EU traffic coming into the UK. Despite this, Andrew Haines, Chief Executive of the UK’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), said the political nature of Brexit means there can be no assurances.

The BBGA’s own performace was discussed at the conference. The association has enlisted behaviour specialist company Sewells to find out how members would like the BBGA to operate on their behalf. General consensus is that the BBGA needs to be more proactive than reactive in its lobbying activities.

While there’s clearly some way to go, a recent partnership with the European Business Aviation Association (EBAA) gives the BBGA some more weight, with the EBAA having just undertaken its own multi-million-dollar five-year campaign to improve the public’s perception of business aviation.

We look forward to seeing how the increasing accessibility of business aviation to the corporate travel buyer audience affects the future of this once-mysterious market. 

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