Aircraft charter specialist Air Charter Service celebrate their 25th anniversary this year. ACS Chairman Chris Leach and his wife Tina founded the company in the basement of their family home in South West London back in 1990. To provide a context, IBM had launched the IBM PC seven years earlier and Microsoft had just recently passed the $1.1 billion revenue mark. The Dassault Falcon 2000 would not see its first flight till March 1993 and Bombardier wouldn’t start work on studies for the Global Express till 1991.
Life works in strange ways sometimes. Business was tough in the early days and Chris and Tina Leach rented a room in their house to a student who turned out to be a manic plane spotter, who’d spend hours memorising the serial numbers of business aviation aircraft. That student was Justin Bowman, the current Group CEO of ACS.
From those small beginnings, ACS has grown to the point where it now has 20 offices around the world and is opening more all the time. Chris Leach makes it clear that his ambition now is to see ACS grow to the point where within the next five to ten years it can truthfully claim to be the world’s largest charter brokerage house across all three sectors.
The company has recently announced spectacular half year results for 2015, with a 41% increase in business for the six months ending 31st July. Commenting on the results Leach said: “The overall increase in revenue, charters and profit is extremely pleasing. The strong figures have been evenly spread around the world. The only region in which we did not see growth was Russia,” he noted.
The strong growth in the cargo charter market was particularly pleasing, after two years of virtual stagnation. “Our cargo department has had a booming start to the year, recording a 60% increase,” Leach said. The private jet division enjoyed a fruitful first six months, showing 24% year on year growth.
“ACS remains debt free with a strong balance sheet and bank funds of £11.7 million worldwide at the end of our half year, up from £8.8 million last year, a 33% increase. These figures do not include deposits from our Lindbergh Card customers, as we hold these in separate bank accounts on behalf of our clients which are not mixed with our own trading funds,” he added.
James Leach, group marketing director at ACS points out that the old saying about every cloud having a silver lining certainly proved to be the case as far as this year’s US West Coast port strikes were concerned. With the ports blocked there was a tremendous drive by companies to use air charter to move goods that would normally have gone across by ship in either direction.
“We did extremely well out of that. It put me in mind of the Icelandic ash cloud which caused havoc to commercial airline services but created a huge demand for charter on the part of executives and wealthier passengers left stranded at a number of destinations. We moved aircraft and pilots to the edge of the cloud and people raced across Europe to take advantage of a charter trip home,” he recalls.
However, in the current market, charter does not need one off events to boost demand. It is doing very nicely, thank you, and particularly in North America. In April, ACS launched a new look On Board Courier (OBC) service. This is a personalised, hand-carry service, with an experienced courier accompanying a time critical consignment door-to-door from collection to delivery. The ACS cargo department arranges for all of the logistical requirements, including flight bookings, utilising its global network and state of the art flight booking systems.
“There are already clear signs that OBC is boosting our results. It is too early to put exact numbers to this. We will have a better idea once the service has been running for two years, but so far it has smashed all the targets we set. We are averaging one OBC service order every 12 hours. We have had an OBC service for a while, but now, with the new look service, OBC is a dedicated department, headquartered in Frankfurt and we are much more professional now about marketing this service to corporates,” Leach says.
Cargo bookings too are growing well. “Over the last five years we have at least doubled our cargo charters and our private jet charters. This has not necessarily resulted in doubling our revenue, as we are doing a larger number of smaller transactions, but it is very welcome growth,” he comments.
The growth into new markets has also helped to generate sales. “The geographical growth has given us a lot of scope to enter new markets that we could not really be effective in without a local presence. We have just opened a new office in Miami, for example. We have always had a bit of a foothold in the market in Florida but having a local presence will be a real boost,” he notes.