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ASL pleased with demand as Mustang continues pivotal role in development plans for VLJ fleets across Europe
The Mustang continues to expand its pivotal role in fractional ownership plans and in many European charter fleets despite the economic downturn.

The Mustang continues to expand its pivotal role in fractional ownership plans and in many European charter fleets despite the economic downturn. Belgian air taxi operator ASL reports strong demand for the Mustang acquired to augment its 10-strong jet and turboprop fleet, and the UK's Blink says new arrivals are systematically increasing economies of scale.

FlyingGroup reports that the aircraft's advantages are paying increasing dividends while Ruchir Gupta has launched the FlyMustang fractional programme. Philippe Bodson, ASL accountable manager, says: "ASL was the first company in Belgium to present a light jet to its clients. The Mustang has a specific place in ASL's product range and will be used for short and medium range distance flights with a maximum of four passengers."

He adds: "The Mustang has a lower fuel consumption rate than other jets, it is lighter and because of this the landing taxes are cheaper. Moreover, it can land and take off from very short runways. The Mustang is available in a fractional ownership programme at ASL which has increased client interest in the aircraft."

ASL, launched 10 years ago, has built a fleet of five turboprops and five jets intended to service demand in Benelux. Bodson says: "ASL already offered a wide variety of choice before it acquired the Mustang. Our King Air 200C has a large cargo door and is attractive for cargo and medical repatriation flights while the King Air 350 offers ample space for nine passengers and all their luggage. But the 1900D is and remains ASL's showpiece aircraft because it has a very attractive price/quality ratio and can be offered in different configurations." These include 14 and 18 passenger configurations or in cargo and medical alternatives.

But Bodson says: "Extending the fractional ownership programme using Mustangs and acquiring an area at Kortrijk airport remain the biggest challenges for ASL in 2009." Also in Belgium, FlyingGroup has put into service the first of four ordered Mustangs.

Bernard Van Milders, ceo, says: "The Mustang is a fully-fledged jet for personal use that allows the owner himself to co-pilot without any problems. Along with the two seats in the cockpit, it also offers enough space in the passenger cabin for four people. These are among a number of advantages that enable the Mustang to fit comfortably within the ongoing expansion of the company's private and business flight demand and itineraries."

Among other attractions, Van Milders says, are the specially developed "silent" engines which deliver a cruising speed of 630 km/h at an altitude of over 10,000m. "In addition, the Mustang is equipped with the Garmin G1000 avionics system. Thanks to three multifunctional flat screens, the pilot has all of the necessary information and instructions about the flight path, the altitude, the weather and technical engine data. This is extremely useful."

Van Milders says the Mustang offers an attractive purchase price and operating budget. "This fits perfectly within the FlyingGroup aviation services offering which also includes shared ownership and the purchase of private and business planes."

The economics of Mustang ownership have also inspired Ruchir Gupta, the man behind U.K. business jet broker FlyMustang. He says: "FlyMustang is offering pilots the chance to own self-fly fractional shares in the Mustang. I believed this to be the first arrangement of its type in Europe. "The company is forming fractional groups, based with various European Mustang AOC operators, for pilots to fly the aircraft as a crew with mentor pilots, for direct operating variable costs of as little as e800 per hour."

Single pilot operation is not available and initial investment would be around US$193,000 for a 1/16th share, giving a potential 18.75 available days annually. Minimum requirements include 500 hours total time PPL IR or 300 hours CPL IR, together with a compulsory simulator training course at FlightSafety, Farnborough, U.K., pilots will also need an annual full service contract with FlightSafety for regular recurrent training.

Gupta says: "The business rationale is that, given the advantages of flying a jet rather than a traditional piston or turbine aircraft, such fractional ownership will appeal to pilots who might otherwise have bought into Cirrus, Lancair or higher-end propeller aircraft."

He points out: "As the charter business slows down there is more scope for such fractional owner flying. It may even be that private pilots with less than 500 hours may be able to fly as pilot under training, and still log jet flying hours until they work towards the IR or more total time."

Gupta says the business plan has generated a good response. "We need to get five Mustangs on the fractional arrangement and the client will be able to fund around e135,000 for the initial investment, fly up to 50 hours per year and spend around e52,500 doing that." He admits: "The cost does exclude many pilots but a typical businessman earning e250,000 per year could easily afford it. Most of the clients will be non-pilots, so there is a golden opportunity for pilots like myself who also want to fly the Mustang, and use it as a great business tool."

The economics are also driving Blink's fleet expansion with the recent delivery of three Mustangs taking the operational fleet to four. "Blink is benefiting from mounting demand from corporate business travellers requiring a quick, efficient and cost-effective means to fly in Europe," Peter Leiman, md and co-founder, says. "This is the first of three planned Blink capacity increases that will see the fleet rise to nine Blink jets by October 2009. During this period, Blink is confident that it will begin to realise the real power of its air taxi operating model with economies of scale and network efficiencies."

The company accepts that it is operating against a backdrop of exceptionally challenging economic conditions. However, Leiman says: "Blink is delivering on targeted revenue growth, with over 300 unique customers ranging from FTSE 100 corporations to small businesses and individuals. The company remains exceptionally satisfied with its choice of a single fleet of Mustangs and is convinced that the aircraft is the ideal choice for European air taxi operations."

Cameron Ogden, Blink's other md and co-founder, says: "The economic downturn provides us the perfect landscape to increase our fleet given the value proposition of a Blink air taxi for companies looking to reduce total travel spend and increase their employees' productivity. With more capacity we will save more companies more money." Blink raised $30m equity funding in 2007.

Cessna says it continues to be bullish about orders for the current aircraft such as the Mustang and on demand for aircraft in the future. "We continue to move forward on new product development projects including the Columbus, CJ4 and the Model 162 SkyCatcher," says Cessna chairman, president and ceo Jack Pelton. "Despite the uncertainty of the world's economic environment, we believe it is critical that we not compromise our future. Our new product development programmes are proceeding on schedule. We remain committed to investing in these programmes, whether it is in aircraft development, facility construction or ensuring we have the people resources to meet our schedule." Cessna, however, is implementing redundancies as it tailors its workforce to fit the new economic realities.

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