I’ve always had a passion for aviation, but it was receiving flying lessons as a birthday gift from my wife that was the spark. At the time, I was working in corporate finance in the City and, by pure chance, my flying instructor introduced me to George Galanopoulos, then a commercial pilot operating out of Stapleford. George and his future wife Amanda were keen to start their own aviation business and, after some productive meetings, we took the plunge together and launched London Executive Aviation (LEA) in 1996.
I left my job in the City to concentrate on LEA and, 22 years later, we have developed the company into the UK’s largest private aviation charter operator. Initially, we started operating out of an old Nissen hut at Stapleford Aerodrome, with space for no more than five people, and flew small piston-engine PA-34s and PA-31s. Our first King Air came along in 1999, followed by a Citation II as we gradually expanded.
In the early days, we owned the aircraft in our fleet, but as we’ve grown we have sold these aircraft and our philosophy has moved into management; after all, despite our love of aviation, we are in the business to make money. George and I have an excellent relationship, both professionally and as friends – rightly so, when you consider the amount of time we’ve spent together over 20 years.
Relationships with brokers and owners
Our relationships with brokers and aircraft owners are very strong and have been a fundamental element in the success of our business. George and I have always been front-and-center, taking a hands-on approach to client relationships. I think there’s an understandable tendency as companies grow that founders take more of a backseat, but we are still extremely present because we’re naturally entrepreneurial. Every weekend, I deal with emails and phone calls covering issues in relation to an owner’s flight and these are always met with surprise – they simply don’t expect it to be me contacting them directly.
Naturally, we have always used charter brokers to ensure our fleet is in the air as much as possible – a grounded aircraft is no use to anybody. We typically receive 300-400 flight requests per day in the summer period and 200-300 per day across the winter months and, since Luxaviation operates a centralized broker desk service headquartered at Luton Airport with satellite offices in Hong Kong, Miami and Moscow, we are largely able to provide a quote at the initial enquiry.
A good broker will listen to their client and identify their exact requirements, providing a quote for a specific aircraft, as opposed to an unfiltered selection of jets with drastic cost variances.
LEA merged with the Luxaviation Group in 2014 and, since 2017, has operated as Luxaviation UK. This move has brought about major benefits in insurance, fuel and crew costs through economies of scale for our aircraft owners, and huge increases in the range of services we can provide our charter customers. Being part of the Group provides our clients with full access to a global fleet of more than 270 aircraft and 25 FBO facilities managed by ExecuJet. The Luxaviation Group uses centralized services for a number of its operations; for example, European flight planning and dispatch now operates out of Cambridge, establishing a synergy that yields substantial savings and vastly increased efficiency.
The past year has been very positive for the industry. Market activity has reached pre-recession levels and we can expect to see consistent growth for the first time this decade. At Luxaviation UK, we have handled more proposals for managing and chartering larger jets over the past 18 months, reflecting how consumer confidence and spending has elevated. Larger aircraft, like the Embraer Legacy 600/650, are typically used for music tours, sporting events and family holidays – this kind of activity represents a significant part of our business.
Given the positive outlook, we are very much looking forward to EBACE in May, where all the great minds in business aviation come together, to discover how we are planning on maintaining this positivity. These are exciting times, indeed.
April 9, 2018