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Me & My Aircraft: VLJ operators fine tune business plans and look to partnerships
Some VLJs operators believe the future lies in partnerships that offer clients a mix of aircraft.

Some VLJs operators believe the future lies in partnerships that offer clients a mix of aircraft. Collaboration plans, highlighted at the just-concluded VLJ Europe conference at London Oxford airport, received a mixed reaction.

Newly-formed Cambridge-based company Ambeo announced the launch of Jetworld Alliance, together with Swiss-based Privatair and Dutch company Sky Taxi. The companies say they are joining forces to ensure the client has access to all types of aviation requirements through a single source. The plan also reflects the general consensus that each customer's requirements will be different.

Time will tell which business models bring the greatest success with the dangers highlighted by the disappointments of Eclipse and Dayjet. LEA favours a hybrid approach enabling a combination of owner manager and charter usage while Blink targets high utilisation hours. Stefan Vilner ceo of Cologne-based JetBird which is basing its offering on a large fleet of Phenom 100s and 300s, says the company's main driver was the business aviation community requirement to save time. But LEA's ceo Patrick Margetson-Rushmore said: "The industry expectation several years ago that VLJs would bring low cost business aviation has not happened. There is currently no large multi-location VLJ operator actually operating in Europe."

Matthijs de Haan of AviationResult says that, despite a challenging year, there is more customer awareness and operator knowledge of what clients want. Gabriella Somerville of ConnectJets says that part of her team's work is to educate the consumer and give them support to maximise their buying power. Connectjets works as an intermediary between client, charter broker and operators.

Edwin Brenninkmeyer of Oriens Advisors, specialist consultants, believes the VLJ market is in a state of "evolution, not revolution" and when the recession lifts there will be a strong role for the VLJ/light jet sector.

Steve Jones, md of London Oxford Airport, says airports must get to know VLJ operator requirements, Eurocontrol needs to integrate them into existing air traffic routes, academies need to understand crew requirements and operators, and owners and purchasers must take the time to understand the complexity and the infrastructure around purchasing, operation and maintenance.

Differentials between the light jet and VLJ sectors have become blurred. Gates and Partners suggested that, as VLJ was viewed as a dirty word by some banks and lending institutions, there was merit in renaming the event to include the existing light jets, including the larger Embraer Phenom 300 and the Grob Spn, should that programme be revived. Delegates, who were told by Hondajet sales director Nicholas Newby that the jet starts certification flying in January, agreed to change the conference focus to Light Jets Europe.

There was a belief that VLJs have weathered the tough times and that the sector, and private aviation, has grounds for optimism in the future. "Like a teenage party, we have seen only those with the strongest constitutions survive through to the dawn," remarked Alan Perry, chairman of MIU events, organiser of this year's VLJ Europe conference.

Alex Hendriks, deputy director of Eurocontrol, predicted that 2010 would see a slight improvement in movement numbers and emphasised that while the recession had been deeper than anticipated, current movements were still higher than year 2000 indicating the market is still strong.

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