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Stratajet visits 46 charter operators in its 24-day tour of Europe
Stratajet staff members Olivia Scarlett, Mike Gadd, Cecilie Oyas and Dimitra Panagopoulou, led by md Jonathan Nicol, recently returned from an intensive European tour to promote the company's online charter booking technology.
Read this story in our August 2015 printed issue.

Stratajet staff members Olivia Scarlett, Mike Gadd, Cecilie Oyas and Dimitra Panagopoulou, led by md Jonathan Nicol, recently returned from an intensive European tour to promote the company's online charter booking technology. Dubbed Operation Longreach, the project was carried out using a 1983 PA-31 Piper Chieftain, and the team visited 46 operators in 24 days, validating the efficiency of travelling by business aircraft.

“It is the biggest Piper ever made and is a 10-seat aircraft normally, but ours is specially fitted out to eight seats including a secretary desk, fridge, and tea and coffee making facilities,” says Nicol. “It really is like stepping back 30 years. But this old plane became our home for the length and breadth of Europe.

“The whole operation has just been brutal. When I first came up with the idea for Operation Longreach, I completely failed to realise the strain it would place on us. You are away for six weeks back to back, flying up to three missions a day, quite often in IFR conditions. You land at an airport, you go and do your meeting, you immediately do the flight plan for the next leg, jump in, fly the plane, land, do another meeting, and you repeat that three times. By Friday we were just completely broken!

“I think we are the first brokerage to have ever done this to share the vision of the company. The most gratifying part of the trip was seeing the look of disbelief on operators' faces as we showed them our sophisticated quoting system.”

Having stayed in accommodation which he describes as 'mixed', he views the project as a great experience. “One of the most bizarre things about the industry is that we spend so much time talking about the benefits of private aviation, and then we jump on the next scheduled flight as soon as we need to go somewhere. What I think we have proved here is this: if you need to see a large number of people around the world, or in this case around Europe, then there is no more efficient way of doing it than by using private aviation.

“The Chieftain is not a fast aircraft at all, but it still does the job because you are not messing around at airports. I think it is fair to say that the whole trip was a great advert for the concept of business aviation.”

As a result of the trip, Stratajet now has 500 aircraft signed up to its system. Nicol feels that his technology suits every type of operation: “We spoke to Tyrolean Jet Services in Austria, which deals with vvip large cabin aircraft, and at the other end of the spectrum we spoke to AirGO with its Piaggios and to GlobeAir also. There are some systems already in place that people are using, but current systems are very much based on geography and calculating a price from distance travelled. The problem with this is that aviation doesn't just work on distance, it is all about how much you have to pay. Landing fees, handling fees and what airways you are going to fly through. All of those will impact on cost.

“The margin operators are using tends to be five per cent. If they get between five and 10 per cent margin on a trip, they are really happy. But that margin can be completely eaten up if you land at Manchester airport at a peak time. The entire profit margin will disappear in a landing fee. No other company in the world is capable of calculating how much it costs to land, to park, to handle, to find a fire category upgrade fee and so on.

“The operators that we have spoken to think it is true magic and they can't believe what we have come up with. They bring out invoices from recent trips they have done, we run it through the system and they can see that the numbers are the same. It is a system which eliminates the need for laborious time consuming quote generation which can so often be unfruitful.”

He was very impressed with the handling agents he encountered during the trip, and says that higher price is not necessarily an indication of high quality. “The difference in quality between handling agents is enormous, but this is not reflected in the price. RUAG in Geneva was really excellent, and the best value as well. We found another outstanding one in Stockholm. We experienced both parts of the handling equation, because on one side it was me as the pilot encountering services for the aircraft and the flight planning element, and on the other side our account managers were taking advantage of the passenger facilities. What we have ended up with is a good knowledge base for handling agents, and I am actually considering including reviews on the system for those that I have visited.

“The problem with aviation is not the speed of the aircraft, it is all the messing about at airports,” he continues. “It is always stressful because you are given a time when you are expected to be there, and so you are having to arrive early in case of traffic. Then you have to go through security with lots of people and then you get on the plane and wait until the last person has boarded. All of this adds to the stress and it is not particularly comfortable.

“But it is interesting that we are not talking about flying around in a BBJ, we are talking about flying around in a 1980s Chieftain with crushed velvet and faux leather interior. It is not a luxurious aircraft by any means, and yet everybody arrives so much fresher and is able to do these back to back meetings in many different locations.”