Oriens Aviation, the authorised Pilatus distributor and service provider for the UK and Ireland, has added an AOC to its competencies. Glen Smith, Accountable Manager, Flight Operations, explains
Best known as the Pilatus Authorised Service Centre and distributor for the UK and Ireland, London Biggin Hill-based Oriens Aviation has expanded its capability over the past couple of years, adding authorised Tecnam sales and service, as well as Cirrus expertise, to its portfolio. Under the ownership of Edwin Brenninkmeyer, himself a passionate pilot, Oriens has established a reputation for reliability, transparency and the highest levels of customer service.
And yet there was something missing. Oriens always had the ability to source new or used Pilatus aircraft, demonstrate and sell them, then offer complete maintenance and support, but it was not a Pilatus operator. With no air operator certificate (AOC), Oriens was unable to offer its PC-12 customers the complete package of aircraft, support and operations. Now that has changed, and the company is heading into a new era.
Glen Smith, Accountable Manager, Flight Operations, joined Oriens Aviation in January 2021, specifically to set up and manage the company’s UK Civil Aviation Authority AOC. He came from a background in charter, aircraft management and establishing AOCs, including one for a company of his own; the experience proved invaluable during Oriens’ application process. “We were the first new single-engined applicant post-Brexit and the first new AOC looking for part CAMO [continuous airworthiness management organisation] status. In some ways it was a perfect storm, but we had it set up by January 2022.”
Unfortunately, the first aircraft scheduled to go on the AOC was sold between Oriens completing its proving flight and receiving the AOC paperwork. A second aircraft deal then also fell through. It is worth noting that Oriens does not own the aircraft on its AOC: they belong to its customers.
“With the AOC,” Smith continues, “we can provide a full suite of services through sales, maintenance and operations. Owners may place their PC‑12s with us and we operate them on their behalf, including offering the aircraft for charter if they want the opportunity to offset some of their operating costs.
“We are also concerned at some of the operational standards and practices in the industry. Through the AOC we hope to deliver an educational message that will raise standards across the board.”
The PC-12 is an inherently safe and easy aircraft to fly. The incidents that have occurred have mostly been the result of operator error, and Smith says that is a concern for Oriens, since the majority of its business is PC-12 related. “It’s a fantastic aeroplane, until someone does something silly in it…”
No one familiar with how Oriens works will be surprised to learn that it takes its AOC responsibilities very seriously indeed. An extremely competent team was assembled around Smith for the application process, and he notes the importance of maintaining standards going forwards. “‘Safety manager’ isn’t just a title, for example. In this marketplace safety management has often meant dealing with accidents and incidents, but safety management is really about preventing them, and that takes lots of work. It’s about being proactive; reactive is generally too late.”
Oriens Aviation has now created a suite of services under the Enhanced Ownership Support (EOS360) banner. Smith explains: “There are three tiers. The most basic is effectively CAMO control, the second CAMO and operations, and the third provides the full AOC structure, including oversight, compliance, safety management and so on. We also offer the latter benefits to customers who don’t want to place their aircraft on the AOC.
“Owner pilots like to fly their PC-12 themselves and some may be reluctant to fit into an oversight environment. They might opt for our CAMO package though, and through that we hope they see the benefit of having us involved and then progress to the oversight environment.”
Late in April, there were two PC-12s on Oriens’ AOC, with a third and fourth imminent. They will be distributed between London, the south coast and north-west England. Oriens’ home base is handy for London, but not so much for customers whose aircraft are based elsewhere in the UK. It would be unreasonable for them to have to wait for an Oriens crew to come to them from Biggin Hill when they want to go flying and Oriens therefore has crews handily based to the south and north. The four PC-12s currently under the EOS360 programme are a mix of private and charter aircraft. In the case of the former, Oriens operates the aircraft solely for its owner, while the latter will operate to satisfy the owner’s needs and be offered on the charter market through the owner’s company. Oriens will market the fourth AOC aircraft for charter, with visibility through Avinode and brokers.
Oriens, of course, has its own database of PC-12 users, customers and sales prospects and this will potentially provide a rich source of charter business. “In some cases, a PC-12 user might experience flying in the Oriens environment and decide to buy an aircraft,” Smith enthuses, “but it will be great just to have them see how we operate.” Having charter aircraft available on the in-house AOC also simplifies the provision of supplementary lift during maintenance events.
In terms of mission profile, the PC‑12 remains popular for seasonal leisure work to skiing destinations, for instance. Domestic UK business and leisure travel are also valuable markets for Oriens, given the comparative lack of suitable aircraft on the UK register; most available aircraft are larger jets that make neither economic nor environmental sense compared to a PC-12.
Looking at a typical domestic leg between Biggin Hill and Edinburgh, for example, Smith reckons the PC-12’s flight time would be 20 to 25 minutes longer than for a Phenom 300, which offers a comparable cabin. The reduced cost of the PC-12 charter, combined with its lower fuel consumption will, in many cases, offset the longer journey time, besides which, Smith notes an additional, standard feature of Oriens charter. “Where we ‘sell’ the charter ourselves on the AOC, we offset the carbon emissions. Regardless of whether the customer chooses to, we feel it is the correct thing to do as a company and we pay for 100% offset.”
The AOC currently prevents Oriens from operating the PC-12 to and from grass or other unpaved surfaces, although such flying is well within its scope and Smith says the company is exploring how it might add the capability in future. For now, the aircraft’s impressive short-field performance nonetheless brings several paved runways too short for jets within its reach.
Adding an AOC to its business has been a major undertaking for Oriens Aviation, involving considerable cost and a huge amount of work. It is typical of the company’s mindset and passion for the Pilatus PC-12 that the ambition is to improve operational safety across the PC-12 community, as well as offering new, more comprehensive options for its customers.