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Me & My Aircraft: Low costs, high reliability and low depreciation draw praise from Caravan's loyal followers
According to EBAN's database there are Caravan owners in twenty countries around Europe and the Middle East.

According to EBAN's database there are Caravan owners in twenty countries around Europe and the Middle East. The largest population resides in Germany, where 18 aircraft are in the hands of 14 different owners. Indeed throughout Europe most owners have only one or two Caravans each, with the largest company fleet being the five 208Bs operated by BenAir A/S of Denmark.

We interviewed a cross-section of five owners about their experiences with the aircraft including Bruno Budim, sales and business development director for BenAir. Perhaps not surprisingly he is a big fan of the Caravan, which he says has an "unmatched economic model with predictable and low direct operating costs and low asset depreciation". High praise indeed, in these cost-conscious times.

In particular Budim points to the sturdy design and reliable build quality, with no airframe inspections requiring extended periods on the ground. Support from the manufacturer is very good - despite a few bad surprises such as landing gear inspections that too often turn into landing gear replacements. Parts are decently priced, and the quick change capability very versatile, he adds. So what can Cessna give the owner who already has everything? "An engine upgrade would be welcome," he says, "and maybe more power when operated in cold areas and/or for activities such as parachute dropping."

BenAir ordered 15 new Cessna Caravans in October 2007 for sale to its customers and prospects and to eventually support its own operations. This order is thought to have been the largest Caravan order in Europe and it followed the company's earlier purchase of 10 new Caravans that are now flying for its customers and in its own operation.

BenAir also flies Let 410 UVP-E20s, a Fairchild Metroliner, Shorts SD 360s, a Citation II, as well as a few piston aircraft primarily for flight training, and a couple of turbine helicopters. "While we have been conservatively growing our fleet, we have also put significant efforts in leaning it out - for instance by phasing out the Pilatus PC6 Porter and Cessna 406 from our operations and concentrating on Caravans," says Budim.

The company sells new Caravans to customers, and will add remaining aircraft to its own fleet. The Cessna Caravans allow it to tackle the "first or last miles" segment of the air cargo market, operating mostly at the outskirts of tier-one customers' networks as feeders and dispatchers. They have been delivering mail, newspapers, parcels and fresh products to regional capitals of Norway for more than 15 years - claiming a reliability and economy which no dedicated twin-engine aircraft can match. When the right opportunities occur, BenAir aims to either extend its current activities or move into other typical fields for Cessna Caravan operations such as short-distance passenger shuttle services as operated for the good of small, remote communities.

"When we bought our first Caravan almost 20 years ago, we were attracted by the versatility of the aircraft and the simplicity of the design. Our positive opinion has only been strengthened: the original design is a masterpiece as far as reliability and versatility are concerned, and to this comes excellent economics. Its direct operating costs are very competitive and the depreciation over time among the lowest seen. The Caravan is the ultimate economic choice in its category, it allows to deploy reliable services in conditions that are profitable for all stakeholders - safety is high, customers pay less, airlines can be profitable, and the environment is preserved," says Budim.

The current times may be challenging but BenAir sees numerous projects for single engine turbine operations developing. Even routes that are affected by falling volumes or payloads become right for the Caravan that would previously have been too small. "But we will continue to grow cautiously when the economics work out. We do not think in terms of flying hours or flown miles. Better safe on the ground than flying losing money," he adds.

BenAir has trained more than 250 pilots on Caravans, have accumulated more than 60,000 hours on commercial SET operations and claims to be Europe's most experienced Caravan service station. It has also been involved in multiple transactions of single engine turbine aircraft selling to other EU countries primarily but also to Brazil, the US, and South Africa.

BenAir belongs to a privately-held industrial group and is a family-run business. Peter Bennedsen, BenAir's founder and president of the group, is a successful entrepreneur who has throughout his career developed extensive woodworking activities and has been a key actor of the salvage and turn-around of Vestas Wind Systems with two friends after a banktruptcy. Vestas is now the world's leader in wind power solutions and a publicly traded company. Sebastian Bennedsen, Peter's son and ATPL pilot, participates as a non-executive member of the Board and Bruno Budim, Peter's son-in-law, has joined the group as a sales and business development director.

When Cessna wave farewell to a finished Caravan off the production line, they can have little idea what adventures lie in store for the aircraft. Take just one example: G-EELS. Glass Eels Limited has owned this 208B since new in 1997. It was bought for the purpose of transporting live baby eels (elvers) to customers in Europe, Scandinavia and Russia. But the aircraft was used for the 'Now Challenge' as a support aircraft on the around the world race between a microlite and a helicopter. It has also flown to Senegal with the French air rally.

Now pilot David Fuller reports that this year the aircraft will also be used for parachute dropping, as another means to make ends meet in these hard times. This should increase the utilisation in 2009 from the current average of around 400 hours per year. "The Caravan has proved to be the very best aircraft for the core business, but also versatile enough to create other income streams," says Fuller.

Glass Eels could use more speed and would appreciate easier refuelling, but dispatch reliability could not be better, having chalked up 3,500 hours and twelve years of operations without missing a single trip. "The 208 is in a class of its own," says Fuller. "As far as we know there is no other aircraft with such a large interior space for the cargo, with such cheap running costs."

"I was a flying instructor at Staverton flying school for two years before getting this post, which I've held for the last eight. Before that I was a photographer aboard cruise ships where I built hours flying the crew around the West Indies," he adds.

Although the European Caravan fleet often finds itself matched with cargo and utility roles, it is also used as a comfortable passenger transport. Keith Webb, for example, has a Grand Caravan with the 9-place Oasis executive interior on the Isle of Man register.

"It just suits me," he says. "I have no need for a pressurised cabin, and have lots of room. The avionics are up to airline standards. You need the Oasis interior if you want personal comfort. "The worst thing is that, in my 2004 model, the engine monitoring is poor at advising. It seems more a way to reject warranty claims whereas the same engine in air force training aircraft shows immediately if it is going outside parameters," he adds.

Overall he is very satisfied with the Caravan's capabilities, especially from the perspective of the pilot. "It is amazing to fly, and a good glider," he says. "It is amazing how much you can recover a poor approach!"

Mario D Pons of Calima de Aviacion, SL, is also very satisfied with operating capabilities of his Grand Caravan, but was disappointed that autopilot servos used to fail. One anonymous Caravan amphibian operator reports positively about the payload, cabin and engine, saying it is "a great seaplane", but feels that maintenance costs are high.

The Handbook of Business Aviation web site (www.handbook.aero) lists details of Caravan maintenance facilities in fifteen European countries and the United Arab Emirates. The most recent addition to the list is AirMed at Oxford airport, U.K, which has recently become a Cessna authorised service facility specialising in Cessna 208 aircraft.

Manufacturer's comment

"It is good to learn so many owners and operators of Caravans are satisfied to very satisfied. This is consistent with Caravan owners throughout the world. People love and value the Caravan due to the inherent correctness of its basic design concept, execution, versatility, reliability and performance," says John Doman, Cessna's vice president of propeller sales.

Regarding operator requests for more speed and easier refueling: "We always are reviewing improvements to the Caravan and have recently made significant upgrades with the G1000, GFC700 and TKS. We continue to review the overall aircraft and make improvements where the market demand and business case warrants. Most people always want aircraft to go faster.

"With the Caravan, its primary mission is to carry large payloads out of smaller airports that other, higher performance aircraft cannot handle. There is an STC available that offers a single-point refueling option for refuelling to take place other than over-the-wing.

"Cessna has a current study under way to review the maintenance and inspection requirements for the Caravan. We are hopeful this will serve to reduce the Caravan's cost of operation but it is too early to state any definitive numbers or information," says Doman.

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