- 27 Feb 2020
- GA Buyer Europe
How does Edwin Brenninkmeyer, Oriens Aviation, see the Pilatus market being impacted by COVID-19 in the short- and medium-term? Has the pandemic impacted Oriens' business model? GA Buyer Europe finds out...Back to Articles
Edwin Brenninkmeyer, Founder and CEO of Oriens Aviation, which is the authorised Pilatus Centre for the British Isles, tells GA Buyer Europe that Pilatus Aircraft are now even more suited to its customers' transportation needs...
GAB: With COVID-19 dominating this year, what effect have you seen on air travel and Business Aviation in particular?
EB: At the start of 2020 there was a general unease in the markets, long before COVID-19 really hit public perception and we were already preparing for a possible slowdown in Business Aviation activity. Commercial air travel came to a near standstill with over 60% of the global airline fleet grounded.
Private aviation saw nearly an 80% drop in business jet activity worldwide in April (according to WingX). Nevertheless, Business Aviation flights continued for what was classified as essential travel, such as repatriation flights, essential business flights and COVID-19 recovery efforts.
For example, Jetfly utilised its fleet of PC-12s and PC-24s to provide free flights for frontline care professionals and for the transport of medical equipment.
Similarly, the Irish Air Corps acquired an additional PC-12 to its fleet to help with training, COVID-19 test delivery and the HSE (Health Service Executive of Ireland) support.
GAB: What is your view on the prospects of recovery of the Business Aviation market in 2020/2021?
EB: The increasing need for flexibility, convenience, health concerns and the reduction of available airline routes will be the key drivers that will stimulate a Business Aviation recovery.
The ‘new normal’ of post-COVID 19 flying and the need for social distancing will bring inconvenience and delays to commercial air travel. Business Aviation will now grow in appeal to those who could always afford it but struggled to justify it and this will bring new business aviation customers to our industry.
Businesses and High Net Worth Individuals will be looking for ‘health corridors’ to minimize their chances of contracting the Coronavirus.
The safest way to fly will be in a wholly-owned aircraft with fractional and charter being the next best options to consider.
With a number of airline routes being cut and a resulting reduction in available point-to-point destinations, private aviation will be on hand to provide a solution.
The need for in-person interaction will not go away. Digital technology cannot replace the value of face to face communication in complex negotiations, developing new business partnerships or in the securing of new suppliers and clients. Business leaders will continue to seek ways to enhance their effectiveness and Business Aviation will be one of the ways to achieve this.
GAB: Did the COVID-19 crisis affect the maintenance side of your business?
EB: The crisis had a minimal impact on our aircraft maintenance business. London Biggin Hill Airport remained operational during the lockdown and we were able to continue all our essential scheduled maintenance activities, with careful social distancing processes in place.
We had a customer who brought his scheduled maintenance forward due to the virus grounding. In addition, some of our customers relocated their aircraft to Biggin Hill and our facility during lockdown as Biggin Hill has proven to be more flexible in responding to the needs of Business Aviation.
For example, a customer who lives in a remote part of the British Isles has chosen to relocate his aircraft and base it with us, simply because crew cannot access the aircraft by airline, the way they used to.
GAB: Are there signs of recovery in the sales side as of end of May?
EB: We have experienced some increase in enquiries for aircraft as prospective purchasers start to think about their options for post-lockdown travel. Existing PC-12 customers have started to fly more within the UK and some reported increased use of their aircraft.
For example, we have one long-standing owner who positions his aircraft to a small grass strip to allow him maximum flexibility of movements. He now commutes regularly to London in his PC-12 rather than his usual method of taking the train, to ensure maximum social distancing.
This highlights the unique benefits of a fast, comfortable, pressurized aircraft that is optimally suited to grass field operations.
We have seen more flights in general as well as demo activity in mainland Europe, rather than to/from the UK. We have no doubt that as more clarity over quarantine restrictions and its ultimate lifting will emerge, we will see far more personal aviation travel activity to and from the UK.
GAB: How has the market changed for sales of Pilatus aircraft?
EB: The Pilatus aircraft ability to operate closer to one’s departure point or final destination will prove particularly attractive to private aviation users, especially when one considers the desire of customers to avoid public transport.
In addition, we are likely to see more demand for the PC-24 Super Versatile Jet from larger companies who will now consider Business Aviation more seriously as a way of keeping their employees safe vis-à-vis the airline or train.
GAB: Did the crisis affect any of your scheduled sales transactions?
EB: All customers who had committed to purchasing an aircraft with Oriens Aviation prior to the lockdown remained stable and we are looking forward to delivering the first UK based PC-12 NGX in the coming weeks. We also saw some customers postponing their commitment decisions as lockdown started, due to the levels of uncertainly.
GAB: Have potential buyers been looking to secure lower prices for aircraft?
EB: Factory-new Pilatus aircraft are now sold-out for the remainder of 2020 and enquiries during lockdown have so far not progressed sufficiently to prompt any pricing discussions.
With the demand for new aircraft remaining strong and, as has always been the case with Pilatus products, the list price accurately reflects market forces for these aircraft. However, now is a good time to enquire about nearly-new aircraft and there are undoubtedly deals to be done.
GAB: How do you see the rest of 2020 developing in terms of business recovery?
EB: The 2020 virus-induced recession is very different from others, as we have already seen. In most other recessions, business and personal aviation is the first to go and the last to return but now, we expect the exact opposite. Customers wish to retain their assets for as long as possible and as the recovery occurs, business aviation will be among the first elements to recover.
GAB: Have you revised your business development /strategic plan for 2021 onwards?
EB: We remain cautiously optimistic for 2021. Time will tell whether and how new regulations relating to travel in post-COVID times as well as the UK in a post-Brexit world will affect travel to and from the UK from the smaller airfields that play so much to the unique strengths of Pilatus products.
In addition to the macro and industry aspects we have already considered, we are in the fortunate position to have a new and significantly upgraded PC-12 [the NGX] to be able to offer customers and this is making the aircraft more attractive than ever before.
The PC-24 Super Versatile Jet will also be an attractive option to customers and businesses looking for a similar point-to-point air travel capability with even greater comfort and speed.
GAB: You also have started a training side of the business with Oysterair. Have you been able to bring that on line again?
EB: The current guidance is that recreational flight training is restricted (at the time of writing) but professional flight training has not been stopped and we are able to continue.
However, within the peak months of COVID, we deliberately ceased flight training although online training continued and ground recurrent training was delivered with video conferencing software. We are now commencing professional flight training once again, with each case risk assessed prior to commencement of training.
GAB: Do you envisage continued demand for training on the PC-12?
EB: There is absolutely no question of this and we have a number of crews in the pipeline to be trained for future aircraft deliveries. We will only see an increase in demand for the PC-12 as more and more of them come into AOC use.
GAB: What would you like to see from government(s) to better recognise the Business Aviation/GA industry’s challenges and assist as best they can?
EB: Business Aviation is open for business and is a medically safer way to travel than just about any form of public transport. Allowing an easement of restrictions through business aviation FBOs and airports in line with the decreased passenger footfall would allow business aviation to continue to thrive.
In addition, the smaller GA airfields must not be overlooked by government as they provide a real alternative to lengthy road travel by virtue of their being closer to a passenger’s final destination.
GAB: Finally, do you envisage reducing your team or making any other changes to your business model due to the Coronavirus?
EB: We firmly believe that Business Aviation can provide much needed assistance and support during these unprecedented times. Oriens Aviation is therefore committed to investing in order to meet the additional demands of our customers.
More information from www.oriensaviation.com