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Boeing B-767

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Aeronexus ponders second Boeing with a busy sporting summer ahead
South African operator Aeronexus is looking forward to a busy summer of charter with its 96-seat refurbished VIP Boeing 767-300, based at London Stansted.
Read this story in our May 2016 printed issue.

South African operator Aeronexus is looking forward to a busy summer of charter with its 96-seat refurbished VIP Boeing 767-300, based at London Stansted. The company has a history of transporting high profile individuals including the President of Djibouti, and was formed in 2002 in Johannesburg by Sven Petersen and Gavin Harrison.

“In 2011 we met with Sven and Gavin to talk about the possibility of our 100-seat aircraft operating in Europe, because there was a niche in the market that we had been working in for a number of years,” says head of sales and marketing Gareth Evans. “We sold our former B727 because it was getting old and we also sold another 767 in November 2012.

“The markets in Europe, America and the Far East are key for us. The population of South Africa is very small compared to the land mass that it occupies, and the economy is very much segmented, there is not the same dynamic economy that there is in Europe. There are no big sports teams that travel and, apart from the government, there are no smaller groups.”

Being in the middle of the action is key, and Evans says that the UK is an ideal base for this reason. “There is a large specialist market here, especially for the sports teams that travel long haul extensively. They don't want to stop two or three times on the way to Australia, sitting up. These are highly paid athletes that are used to lying flat in business or first class.”

Aeronexus has been using a 767-200ER from the UK since 2012, but that unit is shorter than the current aircraft and sometimes had to stop when flying back from Vietnam with strong headwinds. Evans says that this is no longer a problem with the 300ER. “Our B767-300ER allows us to do the UK to the Far East non-stop both ways, with 96 people fast asleep. It is capable of 15 hours with no trouble.”

Despite the aircraft being longer than its predecessor, it has fewer seats. “We could have put 120 seats in it in a lower seat pitch but we decided on 96 seats to give a much better seat pitch and more space for the passengers. Our average passenger load is usually about 80.”

The company has not experienced very much Olympics-related activity, with the summer games approaching in Rio. The world cup football attracted far more business. “With the football, there is huge demand for team travel, allied to expensive travel,” Evans explains. “The different members of the Olympic movement do not have much funding. The athletes all go different ways at different times, depending on their event. We might pick up a sponsor or two, but that's about it.”

Adds commercial operations manager James Evans: “We were back and forth to Brazil three or four times for the world cup. As well as team flying, during the tournament we covered some government and sponsor flying too. That is what the aircraft is targeted for. High net worth individuals, teams and corporates. All of the major brokers are located in the London area, so this is good for us. Brokers provide 99 per cent of our business.”

The 767-300ER has been totally refurbished and repainted, including the carpets and all seats. James says being based at Stansted's Diamond Hangar is hugely beneficial: “It works very well for us. Obviously you are not always going to be flying from your base, and not everyone wants to fly from here, but the profile of the company is that we are a London airport, we can offer flying directly from here to our passengers. We also have the VIP lounge in the Diamond Hangar, and many of our clients are London-based.”

The operator is delighted with how the aircraft has turned out, but admits that a second long haul jet, possibly a B757 in the 40-60 seat category, would complement it very well and would allow for cross-pollination of crew. “There is a market for a smaller aircraft with long legs, so we are looking at that market at the moment,” says Gareth. “It's something we have been considering because we are in our fourth successful year of operations and we want to have a better proposition to offer to our customers.

“Some of the flights that we didn't get last year and the year before were down to the fact that we would have to stop. When you look at the world map now, there are certain routes over certain countries that you just don't want to fly over. Ukraine, Iraq, Syria, places like that. When you look at where you can stop it is limiting.

“You certainly don't want to be stopping in Siberia for fuel in the middle of winter – you'll freeze. That's why we upgraded to a longer range aircraft.”

Brokers are pivotal for Aeronexus, and Gareth devotes many hours to maintaining positive relationships with them. “The whole thing is about serving your community, and for us that is the brokers,” he explains. “Every broker seems to specialise in different things. Premier Aviation and Chapman Freeborn specialise in the entertainment market and the music industry, Air Charter Travel Limited leads in the the football team market. Air Partner has quite a wide breadth of missions including the European football market. You can never be a one-stop shop but you try to service as wide a market as you can.

“We quite often have the client come to us directly – and this is something you have to be very conscious of if you are in our position – people who book with brokers will often try and approach you directly after they have booked with a broker. If they come to you and ask you for a quote directly and you oblige, you are on a slippery slope because you cannot jeopardise the broker relationship, which is the main thing that keeps us going. Some people moan about the margin they make, but at the end of the day they are doing their job, and they are a necessary part of the chain. We will always inform the brokers when people contact us directly.”

Having aircraft based in other geographic regions is another logical step for the operator; currently crew are flown from Johannesburg to operate the Stansted Boeing, although this is not a particularly unusual practice according to Gareth.

“The owners are from South Africa and the airline exists in South Africa, so the crew that were there previously all still work for the company. The natural progression is a South African registered aircraft with South African pilots and South African crew in another continent,” he adds.

“It is not a problem for them to be transported from Johannesburg when some work comes up. The transfer flight is ten hours, but remember that a significant percentage of British Airways crew live outside the UK. People in lots of airlines commute from all over the world because they have got a roster and it is easy for them to get to their base from any country. We have got access to industry rates for our crew travel and there are so many flights leaving Johannesburg every night that it is not a problem.

“No one phones us up today and asks whether they can fly tomorrow, that is not our business. Our lead time is usually no less than three months. It's not go-now, spontaneous charter. It is easier for us to control costs and crew numbers this way. The quickest way to lose money, of course, is to fly an aircraft at the lowest possible rate. It isn't about hours, it is about how much you charge per hour you fly.

“If we take people in our aircraft who are paying quite well for it, they expect it to stay with them and to be there when required if their plans change for any reason. Our job is to stay with the passengers right the way through. At times there is a lot of sitting around, but this is all part of it.”