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BBGA says business is recovering well but challenges remain
At the first BBGA Connects 2021 event, industry leaders discussed the challenges of the past 18 months and look ahead to better times. COVID-19 has increased business for some while Brexit has brought travelling issues.
Gearup Media’s Liz Moscrop talks business post Brexit and Covid with Alex Durand, Sandy Boyer and Jonathan Clough at the first BBGA Connects 2021 Event at London Oxford Airport.

Business aviation in the UK is recovering and at certain locations there is more UK demand than 2019, but “we are not out of the woods yet,” highlights Marc Bailey, CEO of the British Business and General Aviation Association, speaking at London Oxford Airport, for the Association's BBGA Connects gathering. There was praise for the UK Department for Transport (DfT), which it says has taken a medium-term rather than short-term approach to tackling the pandemic.

“We are really seeing the benefits of that co-operation, especially with the new EU permit system, which has required a lot of effort and planning,” adds BBGA deputy chair and CEO of SaxonAir, Alex Durand. “One of the biggest challenges for operators has been the different interpretations and understanding of how cabotage and other higher freedom restrictions apply, as they vary from country to country.”

While business is booming at London Oxford Airport, 30% up on 2019's movements, head of business development, James Dillion-Godfray underlined challenges presented by Brexit are coming to light: “It's been a nightmare for licensing, cabotage and permits, spares delivery times and the loss of access to the pan-European satellite navigation system (EGNOS).”

“In our post Brexit landscape, greater emphasis must be placed on industry players, associations and government bodies working together to to ensure markets are kept open to us,” adds Bailey. "BBGA's role is to provide a strong voice for our 190 membership and part of our success is regular liaison with government. One of the positives to come out of the global pandemic has been our ability to liaise directly with the DfT and keep an open dialogue.”

It says another highlight has been the success of the industry and Government aviation skills retention platform (ASRP), which facilitates the redistribution of employment opportunities, helping skilled individuals showcase their experience and expertise.

Acknowledging that loss of access to the European Union market has been a huge blow across aviation following Brexit, so too was the surprise cessation of the UK's participation in EGNOS. “This has proven a double blow for UK airspace users. Dialogue is going on to find a solution,” says Bailey, optimistic for some news soon. “Because as air traffic returns and flying activity increases, there will be pressure on existing airfields. We need to research the network of airfields needed so we can plan airline schedules well in advance as part of the UK's future aviation strategy.”

Sustainability is another key issue. “We are an easy target for climate activists,” adds Durand. “So we need to continue working hard to demonstrate our good record on the environment for more than a decade and how we continue to address climate change issues.” BBGA is in the throes of establishing a Sustainability Work Group.

Bailey comments: “Are journeys by air really necessary, activists want to know? Well, yes they are. If you want investment and employment opportunities, then business and private aviation has a key role to play. It's in the interest of the UK to keep this sector flying whilst continuing to minimise its impact on the environment.”

Aoife O'Sullivan, BBGA chair and partner, The Air Law Firm, comments: “Sales of older business jets are up. General demand is there, and there are plenty of new owners entering the market. We've seen a huge demand for charter aircraft over the summer months. Getting aircraft registered, however, thanks to Brexit, is much more convoluted.” With aircraft being such high value assets, operators are shifting them to the most beneficial jurisdiction, she explains: “Malta, Ireland and Luxembourg are all ahead of us in the UK for registering aircraft, where it's easier to obtain an aircraft operator certificate (AOC) quickly and efficiently."

“Business aviation is such a different market from general and commercial aviation,” O'Sullivan states, noting she'd like to see the UK CAA establish a dedicated business aviation division, so that it can better tackle post Brexit challenges and continue to bolster the UK's business aviation sector. “My personal view is that business aviation's future is bright, but we can't take our eye off the ball. Our sector needs constant attention from associations and government.”

Jetfly established a carbon offsetting scheme for its customers two years ago. “It costs an additional 15 euros per hour to offset the carbon from their flight,” Jonathan Clough, UK director explains. Around 50% of Jetfly's customers are already signed up to the scheme, with the aim to have them all signed up by the end of 2022.

It is now looking to move more progressively to SAF refuellings with a blend of around 5% over the next couple of years. Clough asserts that the current issues prohibiting the wider adoption of SAF are access, availability and cost.

As the industry has bounced back quicker than the airlines “aircraft availability has been an issue,” comments Boyer. “While Hunt & Palmer typically charters aircraft with two engines and two pilots, the Pilatus PC-12NX, three of which are now on a UK AOC with BBGA member RavenAir, is a dynamic new option, delivering performance and safety equal to a twin.”

Ed Griffith, director of London Oxford Airport resident company Jet Maintenance International, notes that Brexit has been a very costly process for independent MROs too. "It cost us 33,000 euros with a sub 50 workforce. A total of 215 companies have had to comply, to the extent that we are collectively paying the EU more than seven million euros annually, just to maintain EASA aircraft.

“We also faced geopolitical issues; for example we have a French engineer in the company and to date we can't get the French DGAC to give him his release papers. We'd really like IATA to step in and get a bilateral agreement agreed, just as UK air charter operators have been able to progress working with individual EU states and permits. The French DGAC isn't the only regulator we are having problems with respect to licensing. We are all aligned in our service standards, but it seems MRO bilaterals are years away."

It says dual licensed instructors now have to pay for both a UK CAA and EASA set of licences and ratings. They also have to advise students whether to progress with an EASA licence, so they can fly with the likes of Wizz Air, which is currently recruiting in big numbers, Ryanair or even easyJet which has an Austrian AOC. Alternatively, they could opt solely for a UK CAA licence for future work with airlines such as British Airways, Virgin or the new Flybe 2.0. This means that they need two sets of medicals; two sets of exams, 26, and potentially two IRTs to achieve a dual licence.

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