For our Perspectives series, we talk to experienced business aviation industry professionals, who share with us their unique insights and offer a window into their world. This month's interviewee is Howard Palser, CEO of Cardiff, UK-based DragonFly Executive Air Charter. Not only did the DragonFly team have a great show at this year's Air Charter Expo at Biggin Hill, but a fifth aircraft has now joined the fleet:
“We had a really good day at ACE19, it was probably the best of all the shows at which we have exhibited. The weather was tremendous and helped drive visitors out of the hangar and on to the static display, where we had a prominent position. We had on display our brand new, out-of-the-box King Air 250, G-NICB, which has been added to our AOC and, thanks to the generosity of its owner, is freely available for charter.
We received a constant flow of visitors throughout the day who were keen to experience the newness of the aircraft first-hand. Everyone was impressed by this latest example of the iconic aircraft type, particularly charter brokers, who were able to appreciate the quality of the aircraft with the spaciousness and comfort that, coupled with a cruising speed of 315 kts and a ceiling of 35,000 ft, makes it such an attractive proposition for flights within Europe.
We actually performed the pre-buy inspection of the aircraft at the Textron factory in Wichita, Kansas, from where it was flown to the UK by captain Julian Telling, a freelance ferry pilot, and captain Jasmin Mestovic, a senior captain and crew training manager with DragonFly who is also an experienced ferry pilot. The route taken was from Wichita to Montreal to Goose Bay to Greenland to Iceland to Isle of Man to Cardiff and took three days overall.
The arrival of G-NICB brings our fleet to a total of five aircraft: four King Airs – Super 200/B200/250 – and a Nextant 400XTi. We shall probably take this opportunity to dispose of the first King Air that we bought when DragonFly was launched in 2004. G-BVMA has performed sterling service ever since and has new uprated Blackhawk engines that were fitted in 2012 and which have not yet reached the time for their first overhaul. The aircraft is in daily use as part of our charter fleet and is fully EASA compliant; I therefore do not envisage any difficulty in finding her a good home. Our business has grown substantially in recent years. I set up DragonFly 15 years ago, primarily to service the business community in Wales by providing rapid, convenient and cost-effective access to other parts of the UK and into Europe. After buying the initial King Air we actually flew 300 charter hours, from a standing start in year one. As a complete unknown in the industry I was quite astonished by this ballistic start but soon realised that at least two aircraft were needed for commercial operation because of overlapping charters, maintenance requirements and so on. I then purchased a King Air B200SE that we refurbished from tip to tail and which as G-MEGN immediately became a firm favourite with the brokers.
The arrival of another B200 in 2014 prompted the acquisition of our own AOC and this has led to the management and charter of three additional aircraft for their third-party owners. The management of aircraft owned by others is our formula for further growth.
In addition to the considerable experience we have gained in operating the King Air we have also had a Nextant XT400i jet under management for the last three years. The Nextant is relatively unknown but is a potent aircraft with excellent speed, range and comfort. Nextant takes a donor Hawker 400 Beechjet, strips it, installs new Williams engines, ProLine 21 avionics and a new interior.This is the aircraft for those clients that want to go further and faster than is possible in the King Air. The owner has recently limited the aircraft to corporate use but we still manage it. We are working on the acquisition of another light jet for use by a growing clientele of jet users that we have acquired.
The vast majority of our flights are into Europe. Our aircraft are principally based in Cardiff, which is an excellent low cost base, open 24/7 with no environmental restrictions. Most of our ad hoc charter flights emanate from London and the Home Counties. Cardiff is ideal as a jumping-off point; we can get to the London satellite airports within about 30 to 40 minutes, and so we are exceptionally competitive with other aircraft based in the London area. Wherever an aircraft happens to be based, there is generally some positioning involved.
In addition to our extensive ad hoc charter activity DragonFly has a prestigious long-term contract with easyJet, for whom we have an aircraft and crew on 24/7 standby at Luton Airport in order to be airborne at short notice to take engineers and parts to rescue any of their aircraft that may be AOG anywhere in Europe. The King Air is an ideal aircraft for these missions.”