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MEBAA (Middle East & North Africa Business Aviation Association)
MEBAA (Middle East & North Africa Business Aviation Association)
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Perspectives – Courting brokers, business and the stars; selling charter has never been more challenging
This month we view business aviation from the perspective of the air charter operator's sales team – the men and women charged with arguably the most important job of all, making sure there are passengers in the cabin.

This month we view business aviation from the perspective of the air charter operator's sales team – the men and women charged with arguably the most important job of all, making sure there are passengers in the cabin.

The rise of online booking systems has switched the emphasis from hard-selling to sales administration for some, but others remain in the front line, pitching the benefits of their fleet to brokers and key customers, and trawling for new business.

If our survey (to which we are very grateful to have received a huge response) is representative of all sales people, then for the most part they have backgrounds in sales rather than aviation. It is often said that salesmen are born rather than created, and the best are capable of selling any product or service. Perhaps this is why air charter companies tend to look outside their own industry for sales staff.

However, product knowledge is essential, and so we were surprised to hear that perhaps a majority of members of sales teams almost never fly on the aircraft they are tasked with filling. Those that do fly, maybe on empty legs or promotional flights, count themselves lucky and believe that it is an experience essential to understanding the product they are selling.

Meet the air charter sales people

Air Hamburg has a fleet of nine Cessna Citations and with its XLS+ proving a bestseller, with a third joining the fleet shortly.

A team of five sales agents is headed up by ceo Floris Helmers, who says they mainly work with regular customers, the majority being global brokers offering one-stop shopping for passengers flying intercontinentally and regionally. "But we are continuously looking for new customers," Helmers says. Sales events are important as personal contact with customers enables the company to demonstrate the standard of its jets and its service-minded personnel.

Helmers believes that a love of negotiation and a high level of interpersonal skills are prerequisites for a role in charter sales. "You need to be convinced that your own product is the best on the market." And a healthy competitive edge drives members to strive for the best charter of the day."

Skydrift operates an Embraer EMB-110 Bandeirante from Norwich, in passenger or freight configuration, and has operated a Citation V since 2007. Commercial manager Andrew Lee reports that Skydrift will work with other charter operators, when there is no availability on its own aircraft, or when a larger aircraft is required.

As commercial manager, Lee's primary role is to support the fixed wing business, but when opportunities arise he is also involved in promotion of the helicopter fleet within the aviation group.

"The majority of my time is spent researching new business opportunities here and overseas," he explains, "while maintaining regular contact with our existing clients."

Lee's career in aviation started in 1987 with Blades Helicopters at Stansted airport, followed by four years at Thurston Aviation. "Having worked outside of general aviation for 17 years, this position has allowed me to continue in the industry for which I have a great passion.

"If you believe in, and are passionate about a product or service, then the business of marketing it is enjoyable and rewarding. I feel very fortunate to work with such a well-established and respected aviation company."

Pedro Caneira of Portugal's OMNI Aviation is director of sales and marketing, dedicating 95% of his time to selling charter flights on a fleet consisting of three Airbus 319CJs, five Learjets, a Challenger 300, Falcon 900, a Bell 222 and a JetRanger. A team of three focus on existing contacts while keeping up the search for new customers.

Caneira's career path has rarely strayed from marketing, although not always in aviation, with detours into oil, music and promoting Lisbon Zoo featuring on his CV.

With such a variety of experience, it is no wonder that Caneira says he thrives on being told that a flight may be difficult. "This is a good reason to roll up the sleeves and sort out solutions to make it happen in a professional and safe manner," he explains.

"A good example was in 2010. We had a tour to southeast Asia and in one particular airport the authorities did not want to allow our operation due to technical restrictions. It took us two months to explain that there was no problem with the actual conditions and we were in fact the first operator to land an A319 there."

For the qualities that make a good charter sales person, Caneira lists being obsessive with details, being experienced as a pilot (even private), treating the company as if it were your own, full dedication and being aware that it is not possible to have a 'normal' family life. He advises: "Sometimes when we have large operations and you think everything is settled, you have to stop and think about what can still go wrong when everything seems sorted."

Jean-Daniel Berthod is a man with many hats as flight ops manager, continuous airworthiness manager, head of training, pilot and flight instructor at Switzerland's Héli-Alpes SA. Sales for the charter of its eight helicopters are carried out via an operations and marketing team of three, who are always on the look out for new customers.

Berthod remembers an unusual charter request: "A client wanted to fly from Sion in Switzerland to Ibiza to see a property he was interested in buying – a return flight of more than 10 hours – and he didn't buy the property in the end."

Natascha Rode joined the sales/operations and marketing department at Germany-based Air Alliance Express earlier this year and is a pilot with a background in aviation and sales. The company's fleet of eight aircraft includes Learjets and Piper Cheyennes operated for ambulance and passenger charter. "We sell mainly to existing customers, but I see an increase in new customers, especially thanks to Avinode," says Rode. "You must have patience, adapt quickly to change, be friendly and flexible," says Rode, adding that day-to-day variety is what makes the job most enjoyable.

As commercial director for Executive Airlines SL, Sergio Saz Velasco says that he views his work as a salesperson in the charter department as a mix between a concierge of a five star hotel, a luxury travel agency and a taxi driver.

He says: "You have to meet the requirements of customers at any time and not stop until you do, because when a customer requests a flight, you have to give the best options and do it as fast as possible. My motto is: I can never leave a passenger on the ground."

Executive Airlines operates eight aircraft types and 14 aircraft are available for charter flights.

The sales department is made up of commercial director, international sales manager, national sales manager and three charter sales people, continuously looking for new customers.

Velasco has worked for three of the major operators in Spain – Gestair, TAG Aviation Spain and Executive Airlines, and has 15 years experience in the business aviation industry.

The role is obviously not without its challenges: "Meeting customer demand, the difficulties we have with availability, rules, regulations, crew activity etc," he says.

"Sometimes there is no way to get what the client wants and that is the worst aspect of this work."

Velasco suggests that honesty, an ability to make decisions, dynamism and dedication are traits that help to meet these demands effectively. One tricky request needed an aircraft based in Spain to be positioned on the USA west coast to take passengers to Kazakhstan for two days, then back to the USA and a final flight back to Spain. "And another flight with 25 live falcons onboard a G550," Velasco recalls.

Willers Jessen is the sole sales representative at ABC Nordflug in Hamburg, that operates a fleet largely comprised of Citations. Unusually, Jessen began his career as a high school teacher, moving into the shipping business before starting a 20 year stint in the aviation business.

Of the most enjoyable aspects of his job, Jessen says: "To meet customers who are interesting people, with whom you can have a wonderful conversation and who treat you like a human being." And the most interesting mission? "A German journalist was captured in Indonesia years ago, and when he was freed (after paying some good money) we were asked to send an aircraft to a certain location where we found this journalist and to took him back to safety."

Personal traits Jessen recommends for the job are reliability and honesty. "You should have 'character', you should be friendly and able to estimate what 'type' your customer is, to find the right approach to deal with him," he adds. To conduct business in a more direct manner Jessen prefers face-to-face meetings over dinner or going to a concert.

Few of our respondents admitted to having refused to quote a charter but Jessen has, saying: "I refused to quote due to one client's absolutely bad behaviour!"

Based in the UAE, Rotana Jet's current concerns are aircraft management and aircraft charter, operating a luxury Gulfstream G450 with 14 seats and an Airbus 319LR in vip format, which is due to be in service mid-2012.

Commercial manager James Coak reveals that there are other aircraft in the pipeline yet to be confirmed. "These core aircraft are where our main focus rests for charter activities," he explains. "However, due to some of our clients' needs, we do offer a full array of services for charter covering all aircraft types. We recently carried out a charter on our Gulfstream G450 into Africa. While the client was in Africa, we sub-chartered an aircraft to fulfill the client's local flying requirement."

Coak's main focus is anything that helps the company commercially, the main aspect being sales and development of current and future business areas. As Rotana Jet is a relatively new company, he is currently involved in setting up procedures that will continue to support its growth. "I also focus on areas of cost-saving across various departments, monitoring of operational costs through sensible buying and reviewing of suppliers," he says.

Coak is currently the only hands-on sales person for the company and works closely with the ceo and senior management who are heavily involved in sales projects for growth. "We intend to increase our sales force over the next few months and years, as the company's growth dictates," he says.

Brokers form the main bulk of Rotana's charter customers, although it does have some direct clients. "We focus our growth via transparency and support of brokers. We advertise our services and through word-of-mouth and excellent service, our customer database naturally grows," Coak adds. "We focus on retention of clients by offering the best in-flight services. We have a dedicated and experienced team that oversees the set-up of the flight services and their delivery."

Coak says he loves being in aviation as he deals with all types of people from various cultures, various educational levels and various wealth levels. "One minute you can be dealing with a head of state who wants to fly to important meetings on a global trip, the next minute it's an office clerk who needs to transport a bird of prey for his boss!

"Everyone offers different challenges, whether it's what they are looking for or how they need to be handled. Some are easier than others."

Coak recalls an unusual job: "I had to transport sand from Italy to Egypt! Isn't there enough sand there already? I accompanied the aircraft down to Cairo and once aboard, it all made sense. The sand was of very high silicon content especially for glass making – this type of sand does not exist in the desert."

Charter sales people come in many different forms, says Coak, but in general they need to know the aircraft they are dealing with, must have a good understanding of operational constraints, be eloquent, have the ability to deal with people at all levels, willing to work long hours and know their competition.

Rotana has a clear direction on where it invests time and money for marketing purposes, appearing in carefully selected business aviation publications and exhibitions, but: "We don't want to share our secrets as we believe a lot of our business is generated from those initiatives," he says.

German-based Cirrus Airlines operates Dornier 328 turboprops and ERJ-170 aircraft. The company's director of charter sales Frank Steitz focuses on sales, assisted by a charter flight planner. He says that most of the quotes he supplies are for existing contacts with the search for new clients carried out by the marketing department.

Steitz started his career in the mid-80s in cargo before moving, in 1995, to Arcus Air in Mannheim. He now has more than 25 years experience in aviation, once moving six tons of gold on a cargo charter.

"Every day is a challenge – you just don't know how long the day will be," Steitz says. "Experience in operations, performance, mathematic ability and multi-dimensional thinking are important personal qualities for this job."

Jetalliance Flugbetriebs GmbH has its headquarters in Kottingbrunn, close to Vienna, and sells charter on a fleet of nine aircraft, from Citation CJ2+ to Gulfstream 550. Director of sales in the aircraft charter division Dominik Tyro focuses all his energies on sales, including brokerage, within a team of three.

Tyro's background is sales and tourism, with four years working in the hotel industry before moving to aviation in 2007.

He feels that resistance to stress, perfect communication skills, service orientation and 24/7 flexibility are vital to meeting the requirements of the role. Daily challenges, the multicultural society and working in very high service occupation are all aspects of the positives and negatives of his job and he sees sales events as the perfect tools for networking with brokers, although direct customers seldom attend sales events. Asked if he has ever refused a charter quote request, he stresses: "No, never! All clients are king!"

Dana Hovorková is the charter sales manager at ABS Jets, Prague-based aircraft operator and services provider. Since joining ABS Jets in July 2009 Hovorková has become a key part of the charter sales team and developed a keen understanding of customer requirements and the challenges of the business charter market. A firm believer in delivering outstanding customer service Dana enjoys the variety her work in a busy charter department brings.

ABS Jets offers three types of business jet for aircraft charter, in categories to provide capacity for seven to 13 passengers. "In the light jet category we have a Citation Bravo, the first jet in our fleet," Hovorková says. "We also have a seven-seat Learjet 60XR, a very popular midsize jet due to its speed and comfort.

"The largest aircraft, with the highest level of comfort, is the Embraer Legacy 600. The three-zone cabin layout has capacity for 13 passengers. ABS Jets has five Legacys in its fleet which is a strong indicator of the popularity of the aircraft."

Hovorková spends all her time in the sales department, but teamwork is required as there are many aspects to the work. "The sales role means that I get involved in other areas of work such as travel management – helicopter bookings, shipping reservations, and many other aspects of the trip to ensure that customers receive a top-of-the-range concierge service," she says. "Jiri Hrna and I share the duties between us to provide a 24-hour operation. As ABS Jets has grown significantly in recent times there are plans to extend the team." 

Taking care of existing customers is a key part of ABS Jets but, as Hovorková points out, in order to grow there is always a need to secure new business. "We are launching a new marketing campaign that focuses on potential corporate clients in our region. We have identified a growth trend in travel by midsize companies so we are aiming to secure business in this sector.

"I love this job because of the constant change, every day is different. I get great job satisfaction when the client is happy and we know that we did a great job. The most unusual request I've had was how much it would cost to transport 50 sheep from South Africa to Prague.

"In this role we need strong communication skills (this includes understanding of foreign languages), and to be able to work in an empathetic, positive way."

On the subject of sales events, Hovorková finds them very useful, as the opportunity to meet customers and discuss their preferences is rewarding. "I see events as a very important part of building strong customer relationships. At ABS Jets we have held several events over the course of the year, allowing us to meet our clients, introduce new aircraft in our fleet, advise them of the latest developments.

"We have great opportunities to coordinate the charter sales activities of ABS Jets with our own aircraft sales events and promotions as ABS Jets is an official Embraer Approved Service Center and authorised Embraer Executive Jets sales representative in the Czech Republic and Slovakia. We also get involved with local/domestic VIP events, from concerts and golf tournaments to luxury brand events."

Skycam Helicoptere in France sells charter flights on four aircraft types, AS350, EC130, Agusta A109 Grand New and the vvip configured EC155B1. In his role as sales and operations manager, Clément Lacoste's duties include sales, base management and owner flight management.

Lacoste is always looking for new customers and is aware that many of his customers do not appreciate all the services the company can provide. He began his working life at Cannes Quai du Large helistation in ground ops, then to Courchevel for a local helicopter company working in ops and sales and for the past two years he has been with Skycam.

Of his day-to-day working life, Lacoste says: "Each day is different, you don't have the same requests and it is not boring as I am not only doing sales. You must be reactive and always available for your customer."

To promote its services, Skycam sends out mailshots with appearances at shows like Paris Air Show and EBACE to raise the company profile.

"At the moment we have two aircraft in our fleet, a Piper PA-32 and a Citation Mustang," says Sofia Santos, who works in the exclusive sales department at Air Nimbus of Portugal. "We use the Mustang to sell charter flights, for which we are continuously searching for new customers."

Santos brings a background in sales and marketing in the tourism industry to her role and finds negotiating the most interesting aspect of the job. "You must be an excellent negotiator," she says.

To market Air Nimbus's services, Santos finds sales events most useful and would like to see more of them. Additionally, depending on budget availability, the company will advertise in publications that its customers read. "We also advertise on our website and on Facebook."

Aerowest offers Europe-wide charter services from its base near Hanover with a fleet featuring seven aircraft including two Piper Cheyennes, the Citation V and the Sovereign.

In the sales and marketing department, Axel Klegien works on expanding the company's customer base of brokers and direct clients. To a lesser extent, he assists his two colleagues in operations and some administration. Klegien enjoys the variety of his position: "As we do ambulance, passenger and cargo charter and our company also provides maintenance and a flight school, one day is rarely the same as another."

Klegien was in sales for around 13 years and in aviation for 15, with training as a freight forwarder he moved into cargo sales in 1997 and then into aviation sales in 1998. His experience has taught him that sales people need to be patient and aggressive at the same time, while listening to customers' needs. "I find the most successful attitude is when you see customers as business partners on eye-level rather than the classic seller/buyer relationship," he explains. "I like to make individual face-to-face calls, invite customers to our facilities or meet them at shows." Aerowest rarely places advertising and concentrates more on appearances in the press.

Hans Arne Jensen is responsible for working with long-term contracts at Norway-based Lufttransport AS, however, together with the company's 24/7 sales and operation centre, he also deals with ad-hoc enquiries. "We do ad-hoc/charter sales with Agusta A139, A109P and Eurocopter AS332N3 helicopters and the Dornier 228NG.

"Most of our business is based on long-term contracts with government for air ambulance, hoisting of sea pilots to and from oil tankers visiting the Norwegian oil terminals, marine operations, a helicopter route between the mainland and islands, and surveillance in the Barents Sea," says Jensen.

Lufttransport also carries out operations between cities in the Spitsbergen area with the Do228.

Other News
Lufttransport to lease two AW139s from Milestone
March 2, 2024
The helicopters are scheduled to be delivered in 2025.
ABS Jets adds ninth Gulfstream to fleet
February 26, 2024
ABS Jets says it has become one of the largest Gulfstream operators in Europe with the addition of a new G650ER.
Lufttransport is assigned SAR duty on Norwegian continental shelf
February 2, 2024
Lufttransport will take over operation of the two AW139s in the second quarter of 2025, ready for operation from 2026. The initial term of the contract with Equinor is for five years.