July 5, 2017:
TAG Aviation (UK) has signed an exclusive agreement with Satcom Direct (SD) to incorporate the latest voice and data connectivity technology into its fleet. The deal will build on the existing business relationship between the two Farnborough-based companies, which has seen SD supply connectivity solutions to the operator over the last 11 years.
“A robust connectivity system that enables the cockpit and cabin to stay connected is what passengers expect,” says TAG COO Greg Hoggett.
Once the integration is complete, TAG’s passengers and crew will have access to enhanced flight deck and cabin connectivity, communications, information and entertainment during all phases of flight wherever the aircraft is operating around the world. This will be provided through SD’s portfolio of software, hardware and support services.
President of management and charter Graham Williamson agrees that connectivity is no longer considered a luxury item. “It is increasingly difficult to charter an aircraft that is midsize or larger and doesn’t have satcom because it is a requirement,” he tells EBAN. “It is what people have got used to. By working with SD directly, we can create economies of scale and we can buy bandwidth across all of our aircraft and pass the savings on to the client. The more clients that we have signed up, and the more MB they buy, the bigger the savings.”
Over the past 12 months he has seen an increasing number of heavy jets on the ramp at Farnborough: “I can normally see at least four BBJs and a couple of ACJs when I look out the window. Up until 2008, there was considerable growth in Europe with lots of new aircraft coming in. Everything was booming and charter prices were strong. Post-economic crisis, the industry had over-capacity which hit the charter businesses in Europe quite hard. There were too many aircraft chasing too few clients which resulted in pressure on yields, and it was a tough time for everyone.
“There is still a lot of competition today, which is a good thing for our customers, but makes it much more difficult if you rely principally on charter revenue; in recent years TAG has concentrated on building its managed fleet.”
When Williamson first joined the company 12 years ago, he dealt with a much higher proportion of smaller aircraft, including Excels and Learjets. His clients nowadays tend to prefer midsize, large and ultra-long range types, and TAG is now responsible for more than 70 aircraft in Europe, along with 46 under sister company TAG Asia. Of the aircraft currently in service in Europe more than half are ACJ, Falcon 7X and Falcon 900, Bombardier Global or Gulfstream 550/650 types. “We also operate more than 25 midsize aircraft, mostly Challengers, Falcon 2000s and Legacys,” he explains. “We operate a couple of PC-12s in Geneva as well, and recently took on the management of some rotary aircraft.”
These were taken on for existing fixed wing clients, and Williamson says that he has no plans to start a separate enterprise dedicated to rotary: “Traditionally some clients, particularly corporates, have a mixed fleet of aircraft. While our focus is still on fixed wing, if a client has a helicopter as well we need to find a way to manage that aircraft so that the operation is seamless. If you have a fixed wing aircraft and a helicopter, you want to coordinate between the two and having a single operator makes sense.”
He says that because the market in Europe is mature nowadays, clients can be very selective and cautious when it comes to aircraft choice. Very few owners are first time buyers. “They have experience and look long and hard as they recognise the value of the management company and the role it plays. It can take more than six months from first meeting the client to signing on the dotted line, and longer in some cases.”
Nevertheless, charter remains buoyant, with figures for May up seven per cent year-on-year. “The recovery was led out of the US but Europe is following,” he concludes.