An uplifting, inspirational story of resilience and courage from keynote speaker Mandy Hickson, call sign 'Big Bird', the UK's second female fast jet pilot, kicked off the BBGA annual conference 2022 at Luton Hoo on 10 March. After securing an RAF flying scholarship aged 17, her journey took her from PPL, through University Air Squadron and the RAF's flying training system to the front line, patrolling the no-fly zone over Iraq in the Tornado GR4.
And former BBGA chair and co-founder of Gama Aviation Marwan Khalek was presented with this year's Michael Wheatley Award for outstanding services to general and business aviation. From early pioneer of air taxi services out of Fairoaks airport with one Beech Baron to CEO of global aviation services company, Khalek is a highly respected and admired founding father of business aviation with four decades of industry knowledge and experience.
This year's BBGA event tackled key industry issues and their impact on the UK. Topics included the drive to sustainability; what BBGA is doing to get more people into aviation; how used aircraft are changing hands at inflated prices because of a lack of inventory; and a session on Russia, previously business aviation's 10th biggest market.
Collins Aerospace head of regional marketing James Hardie chaired a panel on SAF. He concluded that the education of all stakeholders on the use of availability is important and that aviation needs to 'eat its greens'. Responding to the observation that people are apprehensive about SAF, its not just the higher cost, Air bp's Laura Bowden said that SAF is certified as Jet A-1 and therefore safe to use as a drop-in fuel. Where it's not available, Book and Claim solutions help fund the SAF supply, reducing the lifecycle carbon footprint of aviation jet fuel and giving wider market access. There will be a survey to determine what UK members are doing, Bombardier head of industry affairs Leo Knaapen suggested a series of workshops to raise awareness, while BBGA board director Brian Humphries suggested that the UK government consider a discount on APD for airline users to incentivise adoption.
On the question of whether we are seeing the golden age of business aviation, WingX managing director Richard Koe said: “Industry metrics suggest we are seeing much improved signs of health, much improved on 2020 and due to surpass 2019 this year, but still well behind 2008 with order books still at their strongest in eight years. Sentiment is at its highest ever, pre-owned inventory is below five per cent and overall aircraft activity is at its highest ever.” This is in stark contrast to scheduled airline activity. The embedded erosion in the range of choice for scheduled airline travellers is a key factor in the switch to business. Within the business aviation market, 2021 saw a variable recovery across the fleet, with small and mid-size cabin aircraft doing much better than large cabin and charter leading the recovery. But even in the first two months of 2022, large cabin activity has caught up and private activity has levelled and even surpassed pre-pandemic demand. Koe said the UK was a laggard in Europe during 2021 in terms of demand, but activity has surged in 2022.
He went on to say that Russia is now firmly 'unplugged' from commercial aviation. Pre-Covid it had been one of the fastest recovering markets, but he direct impact of the war will almost certainly remove all Russian demand from the European business jet market. Overall, the size of the globally active business jets controlled or owned by Russians is small, certainly less than 500, amid a globally active fleet of more than 20,000 business jets. “However, the war's impact on the global economy and the specific effect on investor confidence do not augur well for the industry in the second half of 2022, and the golden age may prove to be a flash in the pan,” he added.
A panel on the future of fixed wing electric/hybrid-electric and eVTOL platforms was chaired by CJI executive editor Mike Stones. “Much of our industry has had a kicking, but Covid has given a boost to this side of the sector,” said Faradair founding CEO Neil Cloughley. Swanson Consulting's Darrell Swanson pointed out that 47 per cent of turboprop flights in Europe in 2017 were serving 200nm sectors, a ready marketplace for Joby, Vertical, Archer, Heart Aerospace and Faradair. From a 2021 report published by ADS Group he identified 286 airport pairs, but only 43 of them had commercial operations. Ampaire is focusing on a less capital intense, practical model, centred on retrofitting, which also speeds up certification according to chief engineer John Rees. It is developing a hybrid Britten-Norman Islander as part of the Outlander programme, replacing the two existing engines with more efficient SAF powered engines and two electric motors driving additional propellers. This gives a 335nm range, lower fuel consumption and fewer emissions. Oriens Aviation CEO Edwin Brenninkmeyer said that Tecnam is partnering with Rolls-Royce on the P-Volt, an electric version of its 11 seat piston engined P2012 Traveller. The aircraft's range will initially be 45nm or 85nm and the launch customer is Norwegian regional airline Widerøe. Engineering and infrastructure challenges apart, the panel agreed there should be firm progress on next-gen programmes by 2025, making smaller airfields more relevant.
The Emerald Network’s media session focused on the Russia/Ukraine conflict, highlighting 'Know Your Customer' and the need for careful due diligence. “Rigorous KYC has always been a requirement under anti-money laundering legislation; if a lawyer or a financier does not know their client then they are not complying with the law and can be held personally accountable,” said Air Law Firm partner and BBGA chair Aoife O’Sullivan. Gama Aviation group CEO Marwan Khalek commented that with aircraft being grounded there are concerns around an operator's ability to continue servicing them. Some registries are moving fast to deregister aircraft. CAA head of licensing David Kendrick said: “The intent is to prevent Russian nationals operating and buying anywhere. But we don't want to see aircraft being left in bits.” But Luxaviation UK chairman George Galanopoulos questioned how an operator would know if grounded aircraft are Russian owned, and Osprey Flight Solutions CIO Matthew Borie noted that continued lack of access to Russian airspace is adding 1.5 hours to routes from Europe to Beijing, two hours to Tokyo and three hours on Polar routes. It will also add to fuelling costs and additional requirements for crew rest and planning, as well as concern for flying over conflict zones.
How to elevate the UK as a preferred closing location of choice? “We want to be as good as the Isle of Man Registry,” said O'Sullivan. “Securing maintenance slots for pre-buy inspections is a big issue, and the shortage of inventory brings crazy demand, with new customers buying without inspections.” The Jet Business CEO Steve Varsano warned that: “First-time buyers need to be educated about the true value of ownership or their jets will be back on the market after a short time.” And Colibri Aircraft managing director Oliver Stone noted there were 43 Citation CJ3s on the market a year ago; now there's just one for sale. Six to eight year old aircraft in good condition have seen values up 20 per cent. In the bigger cabin category there isn't anything available, and the average backlog for new jets is 18 months. The closing remarks on Russia fell to the brokers. “If a business jet is financed and repossessed by a Western bank you can buy it. If it isn't, it's a criminal offence,” said Freestream Aviation CEO Alireza Ittihadieh. “The banks are swiftly repossessing.” He added that one bank took back 12 aircraft on the day of the conference.
“It was fantastic to see everyone back at a real conference with the BBGA in what turned out to be a busy week for industry events,” said BBGA CEO Marc Bailey. “I was very pleased with the attendance from our industry colleagues and our sponsors, who went above and beyond our expectations given the difficulties our industry is facing. We have a series of important projects underway for 2022, and it's vital we keep our sector fully engaged with government and its agencies. Membership participation is important to make these projects a success.”