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Hotels To Helis
PremiAir delivers five-star service to Heli operators.

It might seem strange for a UK luxury hotel chain to take-over the UK’s largest executive helicopter aftermarket service provider and helicopter charter operator- as well as London’s Heliport within a few days of each other- but that is exactly what von Essen Hotels did in March this year. It specializes in the luxury country house hotel experience in the UK and France- and owns an executive helicopter fleet which is used by many of its high net worth clientele.

Von Essen acquired PremiAir from the Sir Robert McAlpine Group for an undisclosed sum- together with the London (Battersea) Heliport and surrounding site from Weston PLC- for $100m. Von Essen then handed the management responsibility of the newly named London Heliport to PremiAir.

As well as re-building the heliport to world-class business aviation standards- von Essen is constructing a spectacular 14-storey- 70-bedroom- five-star hotel on the connecting site- which will include executive meeting and conference facilities- roof-top restaurant and subterranean Spa. The hotel will also provide an eagle’s eye view over the heliport and river Thames from the panoramic VIP passenger lounge. A hotel so integrated to an air transport infrastructure is a first in the industry.

In addition to the new heliport terminal the helipad is to be re-configured to maximize the use of the heliport and to accept helicopters like the AgustaWestland AW139. It also is currently assessing the possibility of landing the new BellAgusta BA609 tilt rotor at the Heliport. The new executive terminal and the hotel should be operational by the first quarter 2009- coinciding with the heliport’s 50th anniversary.

Andrew Davis- chairman of the von Essen Group- commented at the take-over- “von Essen already owns an exceptional fleet of executive helicopters and jets and this development substantially extends the company's capacity to offer valued clients a wider and more consistent service.” Davis also confirmed that his company is seeking further opportunities to grow its overall aviation businesses. Indeed- by next year- PremiAir is hoping to realize new fixed-wing airport opportunities- from a new site as both its Blackbushe and Denham bases have restricted runway length.

More recently- David McRobert- PremiAir’s managing director said- “We would be very interested in working with anyone considering offering land for a heliport in London.” He explained that the London Heliport is close to its annual movement cap of 6-000 landings per year. Even the introduction of new minimum charges of $900 per aircraft (introduced on August 1st) and a slot allocation system based on a first-come-first-served basis- hasn’t slowed demand.

McRobert added that nearby London City Airport is not allowed any helicopter operations except Police and MediVac- even though it’s very convenient to the heart of London.

The company flies approximately 4-000 charter hours a year with the 17 helicopters it manages- including the nine von Essen aircraft. In total it has 36 aircraft under engineering and maintenance contract and clients include various Royal Families. It has some 16 executive helicopters on management programs- providing a turnkey service to owners and also offers advanced helicopter pilot training- Police Air Support services and is the largest executive helicopter maintenance facility in Europe according to the company.

Fixed wing maintenance and support is also available as PremiAir is the UK Hawker Beechcraft authorized service center for King Airs and Premier IA executive jets.

Charter growth
PremiAir’s charter growth is up eight percent on 2006 figures- revealed McRobert. “We’ve seen a lot of interest in new aircraft from existing and new customers and with manufacturer order books and lead times sometimes in excess of three years- the used executive helicopter market has also been very strong.

“We operate a ‘one-stop shop’ for executive helicopter services-” he added. “Our focus is very much on IFR twins and regardless of whether a Sikorsky- Bell- Eurocopter or AgustaWestland machine- we offer a full range of services from assistance with purchase and pre-buy inspections- through to operating- managing and maintaining aircraft for customers.”

PremiAir’s engineering and maintenance operations are run by Barry Stone out of PremiAir’s Blackbushe base. “Over the last five years PremiAir has invested significantly in equipment and training in order to build maintenance capacity on the popular aircraft types – the S76- EC155- AS365- AS355- Bell 430 and A109/Grand-” said Stone.

The company has benefited from the surge in demand for used helicopters. “Prospective owners turn to us for help and guidance in buying an executive helicopter-” explained Christopher Forrest- Operations Director. PremiAir engineers have recently checked out pre-owned helicopters as far afield as the US Eastern Seaboard and Brazil.

Investment in apprentices
To face the world shortage of qualified maintenance engineers- PremiAir- together with Farnborough Airport-based Gama Aviation and TAG Farnborough Airport- have formed a consortium to train 15 school-leavers through nearby Farnborough College of Technology. The youngsters will spend one year in college and the next three years rotating through the companies to gain experience.

The Head of Farnborough College explained- “We were totally over-subscribed with applications for these apprenticeships and this course will provide the successful students with a highly regarded qualification and the best possible experience in aviation engineering.”

PremiAir holds design and manufacture approvals and has a design office in-house. It can offer cabin interior completions- avionics upgrades and customized paint jobs; and the company has already refurbished six aircraft this year- including an S76- Dauphin and Twin Squirrel.

More information from PremiAir; Tel: +44 (0)1252 890 089 or www.premiair.co.uk

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