Providing global component support, logistics and AOG to the airline industry, UK-headquartered AJW Group is looking to build its presence in the business and VIP aviation market after recent deals with TAG Aviation and Bombardier. Boris Wolstenholme, AJW’s Chief Strategy Officer, explains the company’s capability and ambitions
Back in April, AJW Group announced signature of a pool access agreement supporting TAG Aviation’s VIP Boeing 757. It brought a company more readily associated with the airline industry back onto the private aviation radar.
The TAG deal followed AJW’s February 2018 cooperation with Bombardier Business Aircraft, in which it signed a long-term agreement to undertake all repair management for the OEM’s rotable inventory.
Both deals leverage the logistics and AOG expertise upon which AJW’s airline customers have come to rely, but VIP and business aviation have very different requirements, with largely unscheduled flying over non-commercial routes. Boris Wolstenholme, AJW’s Chief Strategy Officer, says: “We also have four ACJs under contract, with two operators, so the TAG 757 is not our first foray into private jet support. But it is a different market place to the airlines, albeit the fundamental issues are similar. The operator needs a supply chain logistics and supply solution.”
In fact, the AJW/TAG Aviation agreement builds on an earlier arrangement where AJW supplied and replenished the 757’s flyaway kit, a set of regularly required components and supplies that may be conveniently carried in the aircraft’s hold, but might easily cause an AOG were they not immediately available. Working closely with TAG’s operations team, AJW defined the kit and has subsequently resupplied and evolved it.
Among its key commercial contracts, AJW provides deep support to easyJet’s fleet from its leafy, West Sussex headquarters and a series of base stations. The latter system, though perfect for a hardworking airline with high aircraft utilisation rates, simply doesn’t work for a VIP aircraft. “But our organisation is configured to be agile and very flexible. Commercial charter operators often ask us to quickly set up support solutions for remote bases. We develop logistics specifically for that location, move stock there and work with a network of international partners that we know we can rely on for local inventory support. It gives us a lot of robust capability.
“We also have our customer service organisations globally – in Singapore, Moscow, Shanghai and Montreal, as well as the UK. They can evolve very quickly, which means our account managers work with our customers to provide support in the same time zone as required, as well as benefitting from the linguistic capabilities that might be needed in different regions.”
Unscheduled and Unforeseen
Most of the events AJW supports for its customers are what Wolstenholme describes as ‘unscheduled, unforeseen, exceptional component failures’, and there’s very little difference between the logistics required to solve those on a commercial aircraft compared to a private jet. “The logistical solution is just more diverse. We piece together the solution depending on the criticality of the demand and the aircraft location.
“It could be anything from a standard overnight courier service, through to chartering an aircraft to meet an AOG. We work back from the questions: Where is the component needed and when is it needed by? Is there a local solution? If not, what’s the best logistic solution to get the part there on time, based on the components we have in our network? The challenges are usually around the framework surrounding that provision; it can’t be done under a flight-hour contract as it would be for a commercial aircraft because the hours flown are so much lower and there’s no planned utilisation.”
Indeed, the majority of AJW’s narrowbody airline customers fly between 2,000 and 3,500 hours per annum on each of their aircraft. The frequency of demand for a VIP aircraft flying 300 hours is proportionally less, but it’s not a simple correlation. “It’s not a linear relationship with utilisation, but there is a proportionality. Comparing mature narrowbodies on these hours, for example, if there were 80 airframe rotable failures per year on the airliner, we’d expect 20 to 30% of that on the VIP aircraft. We don’t see any real difference in the type of component failure, but it still occurs at a meaningful frequency.”
Ideally, AJW builds as accurate a picture of an aircraft’s movements as it can, since prior knowledge of where it’s likely to be and when can help in the event of an issue. Wolstenholme emphasises that clients are not contractually obliged to provide such information, but notes: “We recommend they keep us informed if they want us to be prepared for component or maintenance requirements at their destinations. But there’s usually no pattern to where they operate, so our focus is on building our network in different regions and ensuring our elite AOG teams, which operate 24/7, are fully briefed on the logistical solutions they’re empowered to put together.”
Business Jet Space
AJW’s primary focus has always been on its commercial business, but since the February 2018 signing with Bombardier, the VIP and business aviation market has become increasingly interesting. “We signed an 11-year contract with Bombardier, offering a rotable component repair and exchange solution across the Challenger, Global and Learjet ranges; that’s 27,000 component repairs per year. It means we work very closely with their AOG desk and that’s given us further insight into the industry and the possibility for moving into the business jet space.
“And that’s not only working with the operators, but also looking at how we can support the service and solutions providers. With that in mind and given the fact that we already support the ACJ, we’d very much welcome the BBJ. It represents a significant fleet and the concentrations of those aircraft in Asia, the Middle East, North America and Western Europe plays to our strengths.”
Given the scope of its commercial support, moving into the market for VIP aircraft based on those airliner models is a relatively easy step for AJW. “We can support the component requirement, but need to put something in place for the specifics of buyer-furnished equipment, including galley systems and IFEC technology, which would be tailored. But every support operation faces those challenges and we already have robust logistics and MRO organisations in place, used to sourcing and implementing solutions all the time.”
There seems a contradiction, however, between the vast scope of AJW’s Bombardier and easyJet deals, and the type of one or two-aircraft VIP operation for which Wolstenholme says the company could offer a complete solution. How does an organisation capable of dealing with these huge requirements turn its focus to a single jet? “It’s how we started,” Wolstenholme says, “handling individual customers with small fleets or single aircraft. We’re configured to focus the same expertise and capability on a fleet of one, with one-off or infrequent requirements, as we are on a fleet of hundreds.”