UK-based Castle Air has seen an encouraging uptake for the heli shuttle service it has been operating between Biggin Hill airport and Battersea heliport in London since November 2014. “We have had quite a big response with larger jets coming to Biggin Hill and taking advantage of the shuttle, because of the six-minute journey time into Battersea,” says sales director Barry Chalmers.
“Biggin to Battersea is the route that we do the most, but it is all the London airports: yesterday we were doing Farnborough to Battersea and Stansted to Battersea. We are getting a lot more interest now from all the London airports from a lot of global operators who wanting to use us.”
The location of Battersea to the west of central London means that traffic can be a headache, but Chalmers says that most of his clients' desired locations are within a 20-minute drive of the heliport. “Most people that we are taking in are staying in the west London area, in places such as Mayfair, Knightsbridge and Berkeley Square. I don't think our clients are really going into the city for meetings a great deal. Most of them are travelling to their London homes or staying in hotels, and more often than not these destinations are to be found in the west of the city.
“We are using Agusta 109s, which are very vip. We use Grands, so you can accommodate six people. They are quick and comfortable. Some people are asking for larger aircraft, but that is something we are looking at for the future, to use AW139s and AW169s when they are launched later this year.”
Castle Air currently owns or operates 28 helicopters. “We are always buying aircraft,” Chalmers continues. “We have been around for more than 35 years, we are an AgustaWestland service centre, and we moved to London two years ago because we felt that the London market was missing out on our service. We do still have a base in Cornwall, where we began our operation from.”
The company leases aircraft to a few of its competitors and other operators in London, and also leases 109s to Bristow for its training academy.
“We have been around a while, and we know the Agusta product really well,” he adds. “We are looking to expand our engineering capacity in London; we have got approvals now for the AW139 and are a Part 145 main-tenance provider for the Sikorsky 76; we will be looking to expand this provision to serve the newer machines which are emerging.”
Charter has been really good for the company, says Chalmers: “We do ad hoc charter and we manage aircraft for individuals. However, sales comprise the majority of our business activities.”