Jersey-based Ortac has recently taken delivery of a Citation M2, and accountable manager Lee McConnell reports that the company has been non-stop amid the global virus pandemic. “I have no complaints,” he says. “We are on the 2-REG Guernsey aircraft register at the moment, and that has worked quite well for us as a Jersey business. When we first launched in 2018 we originally had the CJ3 on the AOC, then all of a sudden we got the Phenom 300E and then a King Air. These aircraft arrived one after the other in quite a short space of time, which was a great start for our business. Over the last year we have seen an increase in charter activity in the Channel Islands, as well as between the islands, UK and Europe. There are a lot of high net worth individuals moving to Jersey and Guernsey for various reasons – it is a desirable and tax efficient offshore jurisdiction. As our team has all been quite local to the Channel Islands for the last 30 years, we had a lot of contacts at local level, which helped us develop a business on a word of mouth basis.”
Ortac is now receiving more requests from new external clients. It has developed relationships with brokers, and since COVID, it has seen an uptick of interest from people it hasn't flown before. With this new client base turning up, the M2 was a good fit: “It seemed to be the kind of aircraft that was quite popular for charter requests,” McConnell continues. “It’s the right price point and has the right seating capacity, especially for whizzing round European capital cities or the Channel Islands to the UK, so we’ve seen that kind of business increasing.
“Jersey and Guernsey have got quite large finance industries and despite COVID, people still want face to face meetings, especially top executives. They want to conclude deals, see their lawyers, meet accountants and so on. Sometimes it’s nice to just look people in the eye. Perhaps those kinds of executives were travelling on British Airways or business class before. If the cost of business aviation is 20 per cent more than what they where paying before, this has more value in some peoples' minds now; for them it is worth it to reduce the risk by using private aircraft, so we have seen three or four executives clubbing together and flying these short routes. Our aircraft types enable us to contain the environment better. We can give our customers a significantly reduced travel risk and experience, whereby their exposure to mass travel and large airport terminals is at a minimum.”
The company has implemented strict COVID measures, thoroughly cleaning the aircraft at every turnaround. “We are very lucky that we’ve got an excellent testing regime at Jersey airport,” says McConnell. “Ortac worked with the airport authorities and government on this, because at the beginning of COVID we had a strict lockdown, but with our lobbying and support the government and Ports of Jersey have improved the testing regime for corporate aviation clients. The government has implemented a really great COVID testing centre and laboratory on-site at the airport, which is free of charge so far. They have now really developed that, and they say that you can have the COVID test result within eight to 12 hours of arriving in Jersey. Before, they had to send tests to the UK and it took 24 hours or more to come back. All this has made the process much slicker, and it protects the pilots too, giving the passengers confidence that all the people they are sitting in a small capsule with are clear.”
These measures have made a big difference, and Ortac has had its busiest July and August to date. Work is usually seasonal, with holiday trips in the summer turning into business and skiing trips in the winter. “Though we are not expecting many ski trips this winter, relatives will still want to visit each other, so we are doing a lot of that, with people choosing not to fly on the airlines,” McConnell confirms. “We are still connecting people, but just in a different way. We are small enough to be able to adapt: all of our owners have stayed loyal to us because we have been able to navigate these challenges diligently and swiftly. All our pilots have remained on 100 per cent salaries, and we’ve kept our aircraft flying. We have been adaptable and agile. Saying that, we have just taken on a Gulfstream G500 on Part-NCC, and we have been managing a Latitude too. We’ve had a bumper year all in all.”