Universal Aviation at London Stansted has demonstrated its reliability by remaining locked into third place in our survey. Yet arguably its greatest achievement is reserved for the group as a whole: Universal FBOs occupies six of the top 14 places in our 2015 standings.
“We're very proud of having six locations in the top 14. It's confirmation from our clients that our team is listening and continuing to adapt to their evolving needs,” says regional ops director Craig Middleton.
Nonetheless the group figures do not detract from Stansted's achievement. FBO manager Jason Hayward says the area is an appealing proposition for clients: “Stansted has a lot to offer. Before we can even demonstrate the value of Universal and what we do here, we have to show the benefits of the airport. Stansted is open 24 hours and has a 10,000 ft runway, which the pilots appreciate. We also handle a lot of the big, corporate wide-body traffic that is unable to operate into Farnborough or Biggin Hill. We handle everything from a Mustang to clients with private 747s.”
Stansted is well connected to central London, with the M11 motorway allowing access to Canary Wharf in 30-40 minutes. Liverpool Street railway station is easy to reach by rail, and provides a straightforward connection to the west end of London, which is the final destination for many Universal customers.
Adds md for UK and Ireland Sean Raftery: “The airport is very unique in that it is split; it is effectively two airports. You have the runway dissecting it. On one side is the commercial side and the other side is business aviation. We share the same runway, and that is where all the FBOs are located.
“The only other London-based airport serving business aviation that can offer 24-hour operations is Luton, so we do compete with Luton. But where we have an advantage is space. We've got a lot of concrete, and it is easy for customers to come in and out of this airport. There is no stress in operating to Stansted.”
Hayward says that many hours have been spent responding directly to customers' wishes, and heeding their suggestions for improving the Stansted FBO service. “Only a matter of days ago we installed a charging station in the meeting room, because now everybody has these great big, power hungry phones and people are coming in and needing to charge their phones while they are having meetings. It is a case of listening to what they want and then, as a team, coming up with ideas and solutions to do meet those needs.”
Regulatory requirements are ever present, and Universal provides solutions for APD and has a 24/7 global regulatory team constantly at work on such matters.
Raftery says that an 'expanding regulatory environment' is some-thing that he must conform to on a daily basis. “There was a time when you could just fly into an FBO, jump out and off you go, come back and jump in, but you are so bound these days by regulations and rules. Our teams can help reduce the stress associated with additional regulations. I think this is a major differentiator for us. It is not just the facility, it is APD, customs and immigration and other 'value added' aspects.”
Middleton hints that Universal may well sign up to the recently-introduced IS-BAH scheme. “I think it is good to have a recognised body with IS-BAH, and this is something that Universal is looking at, to become part of. We are looking at our safety standards throughout, to become potentially accredited.”
Customers too are 'savvier' than they once were, according to Hayward: “Nowadays they know the rules and know that they have to adhere to them. They realise that it is now more difficult to operate in the same way that they used to 10 or 15 years ago.”
As for the other Universal FBOs that earned top marks, next on the list is Le Bourget, which was placed sixth having been 12th last year. Last year its lounge and interior were upgraded after client requests. Dublin also appears in the top 10, a considerable achievement in light of the quantity of traffic it handled. Echoing second placed Eccelsa Aviation, service in Italy seems to have fared particularly well, as Universal Linate and Universal Rome are also in the top 20. Says Middleton: “It's a competitive market out there and the difference often comes down to the personal service provided by our employees, who take great pride in what they do. We are obviously doing something right, and hopefully we'll improve next year as well.”
Hayward concludes by saying that he senses increased optimism in the market. “Our handling figures in terms of numbers are very consistent. When I first joined, people would come to London either for business or for pleasure, but so many wealthy individuals now own houses in London, that there is a lot more repeat business from them continually coming in and out. London is one of the world's top destinations, and hopefully we can have more success on the back of that.”