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Perspectives – Courting brokers, business and the stars; selling charter has never been more challenging: part 2

Air Business International offer helicopters, turboprops and long range jets and is based in Greece. Marianna Margeti is air charter manager and ground operations manager and comes from a background in marketing and sales with four years in the business aviation field.

The Air Business International sales and customer service team consists of three people, all involved in marketing, sales and customer service, from the first request up to invoicing. "Working out of a small country with global activities, we are in continuous search of new customers by participating in trade shows and through the internet," says Margeti.

It is a challenge, she says, working in an area where not a single operator is Argus audited. "Therefore a deep knowledge of the EASA standards is required to make sure that you provide the fellow broker or the end user a quality product that guarantees safety."

The most out-of-the-ordinary request Margeti has come up against was to transfer a child's pet hamster from the UK to a Greek island, since the family's decision to leave the rodent behind wasn't popular with the family's youngest member.

Redstar Aviation has a Jetstream 32EP aircraft with a capacity of 18+1 passengers. Ozan Alemdaroglu is one of a number of sales representatives selling charter flights on the Jetstream as well as other aircraft rented from contracted service providers.

Alemdaroglu works 100% on sales, communicating with the client before and afterwards. "I am the go- to-guy when there are requests coming from our international network. Domestically, we receive requests from travel agencies and from client themselves.

"Our client list includes business partners we have been working with for many years, companies that hear about our reputation in the industry, as well as new business generated from our continuous search."

Alemdaroglu started his sales career eight years ago. After working in different sectors, he joined the Redstar Aviation operations department. "Having become familiar with the how aviation industry worked, I started working as a charter sales professional. I enjoy dealing with different kinds of people, helping people that are in need of assistance is important to me. Also, at the end of the month, when I look at my numbers, I feel like I am making a solid contribution to my company."

Sales is all about relationships, Alemdaroglu believes. "To get positive results, you need to be culturally open-minded and flexible, not to mention persistent and hardworking. Also, in charter sales, technical know-how is important. One has to be aware of the conditions in which the aircraft will operate." Sometimes Redstar sales reps will fly on an aircraft to make observations on how to improve the flight experience.

Like many in his position, Alemdaroglu is on-call around the clock and finds the lifestyle active and exciting. After the conflicts began in the Middle East and Caspian regions, Redstar received more evacuation requests. "We coordinated a flight to and from Georgia during the Russia-Georgia clash. We built a connection between Tbilisi, Georgia, and our secondary hub in Trabzon, Black Sea, Turkey. There were people in Georgia that were desperate for help as a result of the intensity of war, and our aircraft brought them to Trabzon safely."

Redstar Aviation networks with existing and new clients at fairs, seeking to build strong relationships leading to long-term partnerships. It also organises open days for potential clients to see the services on offer.

Heron Luftfahrt GmbH and Co KG in Germany has two aircraft, a Learjet 60 and Falcon 900EX. Christina Fries's responsibilities are mainly in sales and marketing, as a member of a team of three forming part of ground operations.

Fries finished her business administration studies in December last year and for the last seven months has been writing her thesis covering the marketing aspects of a business aviation company in the today's competitive market.

"I enjoy the new challenges which we get every day," she says. "It is very interesting to search out the optimal solution for our customers."

Alicante-based INAER offers charter on a fleet of aircraft including the Citation Bravo, King Air 200GT and five types of helicopters. The company has been operating for more than 40 years and that gives it a wide customer base for flights to sport events, political conventions, cultural performances and so on. Charter manager Eva Miñano says: "We also deal with all kinds of enquiries for aerial works such as cargo, photo or video shoots and we obviously look out for potential new customers. Nowadays we can't reject any project, the unimportant customer doesn't exist, but it is true that economic issues are getting more and more important." She also feels that charter flights are quite an unknown sector and the company's operations with helicopters have to be promoted, so publicity events are always beneficial.

"Sales in a company like INAER requires a custom-made service and dealing directly with our customer," Miñano explains. "I'm responsible also for the coordination of flights for the national transplant organisation, covering the whole country."

As the charter manager, she reports directly to the commercial manager and has a team of eight collaborating with her in the different operational bases of INAER.

Miñano reports that the company has carried out several honeymoon trips, and been witness to marriage proposals and farewells to loved ones. "Every service is an adventure that usually has a happy ending, but the most satisfactory operations are the ones for the transplantations, as we know we could be saving one or more lives at the end of each flight, responding to demand 365 days, 24 hours a day."

INAER is well-known for always being at the customer's disposal, says Miñano, and it is important to be proactive in order to anticipate customer demands and possible issues during a flight.

ProAir sells charter flights on its six-seat Learjet 31A and plans to add a Citation III.

Kerstin Mindermann spends her time on sales and marketing, and flight supervision after a sale has been made. A team of six sales people handle passenger flights, while a separate sales team focuses on cargo flights.

Mindermann has a background in sales and tourism, with eight years specialising in aviation and says: "To be honest there are always crazy requests. The latest one was a flight for 40 passengers for a 40th birthday celebration for a passenger flying to Venice to stay there for 40 hours."

Mindermann achieves great satisfaction from short notice booking, obviously resulting in a hectic schedule, but in the end having a very satisfied and sometimes surprised client. It is this ability to organise several different topics, to be patient and to be able to work under pressure that are the key requirements Mindermann needs for her role.

Starting his aviation career in Syria in ground operations, Shafiq Derkeshly moved to Dubai several years ago and has been with Empire Aviation Group since its inception in 2007. The company has Hawker 850s, 900 and 4000, Legacy 600s and a Challenger 604 available for charter, although Derkeshly reports that he does sometimes get spurious enquiries for cargo movements, including one regarding several tons of bananas!

Derkeshly is part of a charter sales team responsible for handling all incoming charter enquiries, conducting new sales calls and managing relationships with existing customers. "Our team is very proactive in searching the market for new business. It is also very important to maintain relations with our existing customers. We understand the nature of our business and how competitive it can be, so we have to be alert in identifying new business opportunities in the region and beyond."

Positive feedback from clients gives the Empire Aviation team immense satisfaction and, although hours of work can be challenging, Derkeshly believes this is the nature of the business: "You really have to be passionate about it to be in it. Product knowledge, keeping a track of the charter market trends, maintaining good relations with your existing customers, monitoring competitors and continually promoting your USP to new and old clients are all vital to the role."

A centralised database is managed by the marketing department that also has responsibility for advertising placements, exhibitions and sending out mailers. "We generally participate in aviation related events. From time-to-time we get involved with our business partners whereby we have the opportunity to showcase our services."

Harbourair Seaplanes has one De Havilland Single Otter with a seating capacity of 14 passengers on offer to its charter clients. Lara Vassallo counts sales among her various responsibilities and cites positive feedback from client, for example that the trip was the highlight of their holiday, as the positive aspect of her role. She feels that drive, ambition, personality and excellent product knowledge are all vital personal characteristics to succeed in the business.

Commercial director Nacho Isla at Via Tauro SL sells flights on cargo aircraft such as the Metro and Saab 340, plus a 30-seat EMB120 for passengers. Agreements with other companies mean that bigger aircraft are available for cargo or passengers.

Isla works predominantly on sales, although he points that he is quite happy performing other tasks to help the company if needed. "There are two of us in sales because it is impossible to provide 24/365 cover alone – I have had to do this in the past and it was crazy. I am the one in charge but I need help with customer requests and holidays. We are continuously trying to find new customers although, naturally, we like to devote most of our energies to existing customers. And we prefer satisfied customers spreading the word to advertising."

Isla started in aviation in 1995 as a dispatcher, working for several airlines at London Heathrow. After some time, he returned to Spain to develop his career in aviation, this time as a commercial director. "I got a job with Metro Airlines which started with two aircraft and grew to six aircraft. However, when the company had not grown its fleet for a couple of years, I decided to take a new challenge with a different, small company and try to make it grow. I like challenges."

On the downside, Isla has had some negative experiences: "I don't think a salesperson should quote somebody who doesn't pay their bills. They are a cancer for our business and unfortunately they exist in Spain."

Isla may have the most forthright example of a strange customer request – a flight booked specifically so that the customer could have sexual intercourse while flying.

GlobeAir is an executive airline using its own fleet of nine Mustangs, with one Mustang in AOC management, and conducts an average of 13 flights a day. Mauro De Rosa, chief marketing officer, says: "We have the largest Citation Mustang fleet in the world and we are the market leader in Europe with 40% of market share."

De Rosa's responsibilities involve sales, marketing and management. "Since our customers book flights with us directly, we are responsible for them. Our passengers fly all over Europe so we must ensure that everything works perfectly.

"Usually I go to sleep when the last flight has landed and the commander calls to say the customer was 100% satisfied. My position involves working closely with the whole team."

GlobeAir is constantly looking for new clients. A customer care team of six is headed up by George Wilfing who takes care of partner and client needs 24/7. Says De Rosa: "Due to continual growth, our client base grows as a result, but we are always eager to create a wider network. New clients are contacted and met by the sales department and once we get to know clients they are handed over to our customer care team."

At GlobeAir, employees come from all over Europe and some from outside the EU, which can make communication and cultural differences during daily operations challenging at times. "Therefore the common denominator must be the passion that we all have for this industry and the professionalism that every single person puts in," stresses De Rosa. "You can learn how to sell but you cannot learn how to love your corporate mission, it's about emotion and mind status."

De Rosa studied law and international business with a marketing specialisation, later working in a non-aviation industry as marketing and sales manager. However, he says: "At one point my passion for aviation was so strong that on instinct I decided to get into aviation management, marketing and sales. I always encourage people coming from different backgrounds to join this industry; they can provide new ideas and unclouded ways of thinking."

Working closely with people, and being in touch with different cultures, is what De Rosa likes the most. "This business is so interesting, emotional and foolish that I enjoy every single day and every single flight sold. We flew more than 6,000 passengers between January and August and each flight always had a nice story behind it. We had a serious request to provide a flight from Rome to Dubai. It was Valentine's Day and a man asked us to fly his cat … it was a present for his wife who lives in Dubai."

In the internet era, GlobeAir believes that the most powerful tool is to meet the customer, listen and try to satisfy their expectations. "In this business I'm still convinced that 90% of customers in Europe flying privately jump from one operator to another until they find the right one for them. So the best way to acquire customers is when they fly with us, just for one flight, we must provide them with the most professional care and this will guarantee a rebooking."

GlobeAir's communication activities are built around its partner networks established on co-marketing agreements. For example, for partner Maserati the company exhibits during the Frankfurt and Geneva motor show, or with the Ferretti Group appearances at the Festival de la Plaisance in Cannes and at Monte Carlo Boat Show are in order.

Commercial manager at London Executive Aviation Chris Watson reports that being from an ops background, and maintaining some of those responsibilities, works well with the commercial side.

He sells charter flights on 24 aircraft of seven types, including the Legacy 600/650, Challenger 300 and Citation Mustang. A commercial executive helps to turn around most of the quotes each day, although all LEA staff are trained in quoting.

Sixty per cent of LEA's business comes from major brokers and other operators in Europe, rather than from direct bookings. "We are constantly looking to expand our client base and building new relationships with others," says Watson.

"We have carried anything from coffins to small car parts and human transplants around Europe and further afield. One charter that sticks in mind was to take eight ladies to an African country with some boxes of special Cognac. We were told that none of the ladies knew each other. On the day, none of the passengers turned up, so we just flew the boxes of Cognac to the destination – after getting them thoroughly checked, of course! We don't ask questions, we just get on with the job!"

Watson's background lies in aviation, starting with a diploma in aircraft engineering and a period at London City Airport before joining LEA seven years ago to train in ops and commercial. "I became deputy operations manager and then took the post of commercial manager two years ago. I still enjoy getting involved in operational matters, especially long haul flight planning."

A charter sales person must be enthusiastic, polite, professional and able to adapt to different client personalities and needs, he says. "This is a service industry, where personal relationships go a long way. I enjoy networking and meeting our clients and potential ones. I find I have a better relationship that can be more relaxed once I have met a client.

We also hold various events for our clients – a day at the theatre, learning to play polo, day at the races, and so on. It is important to give something back and spend some time away from the aircraft with them."

Watson says that he has never refused to quote a job, but if he does not like the sound of the task, will always make the appropriate enquiries with government agents. "These days, security and safety is paramount, so we need to be careful."

Stuttgarter Flugdienst operates 11 aircraft, including the newest entry to its fleet, a Citation XLS.

After 55 years in business, SFD has a solid base of regular customers but is always seeking new contacts.

Managing director Andreas Mundsinger explains that sales activities fall within the same department as operations and dispatch, with a staff that has gained many years of experience in business aviation.

Mundsinger initially studied business administration and joined SFD in 1997 as manager of charter sales/operations before becoming managing director in 2001. Of his role, he says: "Every day has its new challenges, because this is aviation and every day is different. You must be service oriented, friendly, flexible, professional and have an excellent background in aviation."

The most unusual charter request Mundsinger recalls was to fly 10 cats from Athens to Stuttgart.

Masterjet's charter operations are headquartered at Le Bourget, with a fleet of eight aircraft that has recently been joined by a head of state Airbus A320 with 26 seats.

With prime responsibility for supervising charter sales, Jean-François Lecoanet works on sales while also making sure that everything goes smoothly for all flights. In the charter desk team, five people focus on the needs of existing customers with another staff member seeking and meeting new customers.

Lecoanet has always been in private aviation, but he started in a more operational role before taking commercial responsibilities. And now he feels that time and experience has shown that no charter request is unusual. "I like the fact that this job is different every day, it is clearly not a boring task! I believe to make a good charter sales person you need to be flexible, good at multitasking, develop an exceptional customer-care attitude … and have a good resistance to pressure." There has been occasion, due to the inappropriate attitude of a customer toward the cabin crew or the aircraft, when Masterjet has had to refuse to quote.

When it comes to sales strategy, Lecoanet believes that the only way to succeed with customers is to exceed expectations with every flight, saying that sales events and hospitality are not so helpful.

"We sell charter flights on primarily our own aircraft – King Airs and Dornier 228 – but secondarily on any type, the best aircraft for the job to suit the customer," says Nicolas D Webèr, managing director and pilot with Backbone Aviation A/S.

As director, Webèr's respon-sibilities are wide-ranging: "I have more than sales on my mind, I work with the whole organisation as accountable manager. So hiring and firing, possible future customers, new aircraft types, new focus areas are all my business. I find the whole scope of being accountable manager with a commercial pilots licence to be the best combination and I enjoy every aspect of my job."

He shares sales duties with his flight operations manager and, as Backbone is a newcomer to the business, they are on the look-out for new customers.

With a background in the military and then aviation, Webèr says that the company has "a thing" for pioneering jobs in remote environments. "We believe we have the stamina to provide for our customers, wherever they want an operation to take place."

He was in the army for 16 years, from conscript to sergeant to officer and has been on national and international deployments, from Serbia to Iraq through many African countries, and Afghanistan. "Going from the military to aviation has been one of my toughest decisions, but also one of the best.

"We have not had any request that goes into the 'unusual' category. But then again, BackBone Aviation handles unusual requests on a daily basis."

The most important characteristic for a charter sales person is the ability to think on their feet, believes Webèr, offering suitable alternatives to get the job done to provide customers with what they need. "I have yet to decline a customer. Not that it has not been close, but we always find a solution. We always says yes, then we find the best way around the 'mountain', present that to the customer, and get the job done."

Zurich-based Cat Aviation operates Falcon 7X, 900EX, 2000EX, Sovereign and Hawker 800 aircraft and other aircraft if there is a need. Rolf Ringwald is managing director for marketing and customer relations.

The company's sales team multitask by working in the flight dispatch and sales departments, 24/7 365 days. Ringwald says this is very important as staff must understand both sides, sales and operations. He explains: "They can give professional answers to our customers and do not promise things that we cannot fulfill – credibility is one of our company philosophies. We have a very good customer portfolio but we search continuously for new customers."

Ringwald has spent 25 years in the aviation industry with positions including flight dispatcher and head of ops centres at Crossair AG and Swiss International. He has also been an executive member at Hello AG charter airline in Switzerland and lead sales at Lufthansa Private Jet and Swiss Private Jet.

He has been with Cat Aviation for a few months and has been involved in the organisation of charters for deportation of refugees, flights into Iraq shortly after the war and gold shipments. Occasionally, requests to fly into war areas have had to be refused.

"Cat Aviation has a high class product, new aircraft and well trained and friendly people in the company," says Ringwald. "I enjoy meeting new people and working with our highly professional staff, but sometimes it is tiresome to talk about prices."

Sales events and hospitality are, he says, absolutely necessary to extend the network and talk with people face-to-face. And a perk of the job would be the opportunity to travel on the jets himself. "We have very high class catering on board which I enjoyed, I tested the onboard entertainment system – and the comfortable beds!"

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