Castle Air, which operates the London Heli Shuttle between London Biggin Hill airport and Battersea Heliport in central London, has grown its fleet to include six AgustaWestland AW109 Grand helicopters.
Since its launch in December 2015, the London Heli Shuttle service has completed 2,500 helicopter transfers. Lasting six minutes, the service affords passengers swift transfer to and from the centre of London.
The service was showcased during Air Charter Expo, a one-day trade show that took place at Biggin Hill on 12 September and attracted around 700 delegates. Attendees entered a prize draw, and four winners were treated to a flight to Battersea and back on an A109S Grand. The winners were Nick Weaver from Civils, Arjen Groeneveld from Duncan Aviation, Beatrice Ashe from Jet Aviation and Melanie Daglish from ITIC.
Andy Patsalides, marketing manager at Biggin Hill airport, says: “We established our helicopter transfer following feedback that our clients wanted the fastest route to central London. It's great to see the Castle Air fleet expanding and it is clear from the popularity of the service that we continue to prove ourselves as the preferred business aviation gateway for the city.”
Castle Air has around 30 helicopters in its fleet, which changes constantly as some are sold and others are put out on lease. Sales director Barry Chalmers says that the company has sent a couple of rotorcraft to be re-registered and repainted.
“We are trying to make them a little bit more corporate-looking,” he says. “The grey matte finish seems to be very popular at the moment. Sometimes we might bring a helicopter on to the fleet and it might be red with white stripes. People buy with their eyes. We've found that by applying a modern paint scheme and a new interior, it does help to sell the aircraft. “We are trying to keep the same machines in London for charter because brokers and clients get familiar with them and they often ask for the same registration.”
He says that the 109 is a great fit for the market in most cases, but is considering the AW139 as some clients find the type too small. “We definitely feel there is a gap in the market where we can use a bigger helicopter, so that is what we are looking to do for next year. Battersea is working really well and it is six minutes from Biggin Hill, 12 minutes from Stansted and 14 from Farnborough. We are well-positioned in the London area to fulfil all the London airports.”
An increasing number of fixed wing jet clients at sister company Sovereign Business Jets are starting to use the helicopters too. Adds Chalmers: “We had a really busy summer, and are up around 30 per cent on last year. We are just trying to zone in on what we are going to do for next year. We have to do something different, because there is a lot more competition in the London market now.
“We thought it would quieten down for the end of the summer, but last month and this month have been records for us in terms of charter. Sometimes a bit of a lull is no bad thing, as it enables us to regroup and come up with a plan for next year. We are considering positioning aircraft in other parts of Europe, at hotspots that are frequented by jets. We had one down in Cannes for a while, and Ibiza would be another good option.”