A custom designed, executive business jet that, with the addition of winglets, offers a non-stop flight capability from Dubai to London carrying up to 48 passengers, yet does not break the bank, seems to be a tall order. Not so, says the European Aviation Group, it is simply a matter of placing your order
Founded in 1989, the European Aviation Group began with the acquisition of BAC 1-11 aircraft and a substantial spares inventory from the Royal Australian Air Force, by Australian entrepreneur Paul Stoddart. The venture has now grown into a multi-national group of specialist companies, providing a wide range of services to the aviation industry.
Typically those services comprise: aircraft engineering support, aircraft spares and interiors, as well as flight simulator training, aircraft sales and leasing to airlines worldwide. More recently it has introduced a programme of converting ex-airline Boeing 737s into executive configuration, business jets.
Speaking from European Aviation’s UK headquarters in Ledbury, Herefordshire, Managing Director, Trevor Whetter, explained that facility includes a spare parts department, comprising some 500,000 items covering all aircraft types. The company also refurbishes aircraft seats, of which there are currently approximately 10,000 in stock. These are business class standard seats that originated with British Airways and Virgin Atlantic and various other airlines. The process changes the look of them, as well as applying new foams and fixtures ,and leather upholstery to produce a high quality, bespoke seat at an affordable price.
The company’s main engineering facility is at Bournemouth, Dorset, UK, which has the capability to modify and repair 737 aircraft up to D Check status and also has a comprehensive paint shop. Bournemouth is also the base for the company flying training school, complete with 737-200, 747-200/300, 727, BAC 1-11 and Sikorsky S61-N helicopter simulators.
Currently, the company is purchasing 737 aeroplanes that have just come out of service, with well-established major airlines. These are then converted into a 48-seat, all executive, business class configuration. “We are then selling them on or coming to suitable arrangements with potential operators or buyers of the aircraft,” says Whetter.
By April of this year, nine of these aeroplanes had been purchased. Two have already been sold, the company has a letter of intent for a third and there are four more prospective deals. Of the two sold, one is to a UK company and the other to a Middle East customer. Whetter likes to emphasise that all this activity has taken place over a period of just 16 months.
The company is highly flexible and adaptable to suit customer requirements, Typically, one private individual wanted to purchase an aircraft and although he wanted to operate it for himself, he also wanted to generate additional revenue. To achieve a solution, European Aviation teamed with an airline, which placed the aircraft on their AOC and then marketed the aircraft to attract charter work – a neat, financial solution that contributes to the investment and also helps to defray the operational costs. “To date, we have done one of these in the Middle East and one in UK” says Whetter.
When an aircraft is being converted, all of the interiors and all exterior liveries are of totally in-house design. The interior design features what Whetter refers to as the “chameleon process”, which is a decorative film process, manufactured by Chameleon Products Ltd, that is widely applied in the interior to give the impression of materials such as carbon fibre, wood or even marble. This has proved to be much more durable than using wood veneers, which may crack and the glue deteriorates. This film process, which can be applied to any substrate and has passed all the smoke and toxicity testing, is a very light-weight product. It is even used in the toilets where it transforms the standard, plastic look to a highly effective, simulated wood finish.
The aircraft are usually configured in a purely executive passenger configuration but special requirements, such as beds, can also be provided. The company has done work on these fittings and can carry out configuration changes to suit specialised customer needs. “If they want a VIP aircraft we can do that for them as well,” says Whetter.
Whetter confirms that there is no “built-in” in-flight entertainment on the aircraft. Instead there is the offer of hand-held personal devices. This is an easier option rather than the complexity of “plumbing” it into the aircraft, with all the attendant complication, such as certification. However, technology is moving quickly and there have been many enquiries from customers regarding wi-fi connectivity. This is something that the company is currently reviewing and now has various proposals as an option on offer to customers.
As an indicator of customer acceptance, one of the finished aircraft was taken to the recent MEBA show in Dubai. There were more than 250 visitors to the aircraft and it proved to be a very successful show for the company. A constant query from the visitors was: “Can the aircraft fly direct from Dubai to London.” In basic configuration the answer is in the negative. However, a seven tank fuel system has been developed for the aircraft, as an optional extra, which can offer up to an additional two hours flying time. The additional tankage is mounted in the freight hold, meaning a slight loss of baggage capacity. Although the additional tankage installation is a permanent fixture, it has been designed for the tanks to be installed or removed in just a day and a half. Consequently, once the initial installation work has been carried out, it is equally easy to remove the tanks if operational requirements change or long-range flights are not a regular occurrence.
The complete, conversion work is carried out in two phases. Firstly, the actual physical tasks of gathering materials, seats, interior modification, etc, which takes some three months; then finalising the changes and the very necessary paper work can mean a total time of approximately four months, depending upon the type of configuration.
Once completed, the customer can take advantage of a maintenance package deal. Because the engineering organisation has D Check approval on the 737, it can offer comprehensive support for such things as C checks or adding new equipment or modifications and line maintenance at the Bournemouth facility. The engineering division has the advantage of a very large, spares support sister company and, if operational needs require, flying spanners can be provided. In fact, European Aviation can offer a one-stop shop facility, including assistance with complex documentation, such as aircraft registration.
Although not directly involved, in a commercial sense, customers can be helped to recruit flight crew through an introduction to an agency, called GainJet, based in Athens.
When completed, each aircraft commands a different price, depending upon the prospective owner’s specification, aircraft history and current maintenance status; some having just completed a D Check. Some of the engines may have many more cycles than others. The company tries to tailor the aircraft to the required budget. A purchaser may see an aircraft straight out of a D Check, with 5,000 cycles remaining on each engine, yet the customer only intends to fly two hundred cycles a year. Whetter emphasises that customer satisfaction is prime “so we can often optimise the price of the aircraft by switching engines around. The trick is to be flexible”.
The result is a flexible, executive business aircraft that can offer a useful range, backed by an organisation with considerable experience of the 737 and at an average price of $8-12 million, depending on specification. That has to be a bargain!