Luxaviation Helicopters has founded the Luxaviation Helicopters Charter Alliance, applying its standards of customer service and safety to operators globally. CEO Charlotte Pedersen explains the concept
Back in 2017, Luxaviation created Luxaviation Helicopters as a global VIP helicopter management company. With rotary-wing veteran Charlotte Pedersen as CEO, the organisation brought the customer service and quality synonymous with the Luxaviation brand to the VIP helicopter world. From the outset, Pedersen also had a focus on safety, training and consultation. Operated by a well-trained professional crew, the modern helicopter is an immensely safe means of transport, regardless of operating environment – Luxaviation Helicopters recognises that its customers may want to fly to and from yachts, away from established airfield facilities and at short notice. Its training courses and operational ethos facilitate all those demands.
Now that ethos is spreading beyond Luxaviation Helicopters’ managed fleet, with its Charter Alliance, a collective of global helicopter charter operators united by their adherence to Luxaviation’s strict operating policies. By mid-August 2019, the Alliance included French company Azur Hélicoptère, HeliFlite in the US, the UK’s Starspeed, PhilJets in the Philippines, Heli Austria, Italy’s Hoverfly and ExecuJet’s helicopter fleet in Mexico and South Africa. Speaking to EVA late in July, Pedersen revealed she expected to announce further sign-ups soon, as well as explaining more about the organisation.
“We hadn’t fully defined our interest when we first looked to establish Luxaviation Helicopters, so we did a global market search to identify the world helicopter fleet, define where the aircraft were located and learn what it was they were doing. There’s no commercial report available, so it was a difficult task that eventually led us to focus on the VIP market.
“Looking at our research, we realised there were more than 5,000 helicopter companies around the world, but only the largest six or seven were familiar to me – Bristow, CHC and so on. Many of the others operated small fleets and offered charter, but were really only known in their local market. People travelling to their regions and looking to charter had no clue which companies they ought to work with, which offered high standards, because all that knowledge was local.”
The idea therefore emerged to connect helicopter companies offering best-in-class standards, making them, according to Pedersen, ‘visible to customers globally’. The Charter Alliance that emerged sells charter through Luxaviation Helicopters, as well as referring customers to Alliance members, guaranteeing that operators meet Luxaviation’s standards; Pedersen describes the concept as similar to the airlines’ Star Alliance or Oneworld alliance, “A collaboration of companies with the same high standards and interested in developing further charter business. They pay us a fee that’s commensurate with their typically small size – we expect them to cover the cost if their membership brings them just two or three more charter flights per year.”
Companies considered for the Charter Alliance already meet the standards of their local regulator, but their membership guarantees a level of oversight that perhaps goes above and beyond that which might be expected in their region, offering charter clients even greater reassurance when they buy.
Pedersen confirms: “National regulatory audits look at basic helicopter operation. It confirms aircraft are airworthy, the pilots trained, correctly licenced and so on. We also check all that, and apply our own standards for commercial operations, including minimum flight hours and required level of piloting experience. We check their insurance is at the correct level, conduct an aviation safety audit and expect them to undergo an additional audit outside that conducted by the aviation authority. We usually find they’re already audited by several organisations – IS-BAH, Wyvern, etc – but we also ensure the helicopters they’re offering for charter are in agreement with the contract the companies sign with us.”
Alongside these direct inspections and confirmations, Luxaviation Helicopters uses its network of industry contacts to gather intelligence on potential Charter Alliance members. “It’s important that we hear recommendations from people that don’t work for the company or for a competitor, but know the region. Several of the other established fixed-wing companies take exactly the same approach in deciding which operators to work with,” Pedersen says.
Pedersen says charter customers choosing a Charter Alliance member company have the reassurance that they’re booking with an expert local operator that has been audited by an external company; she plays down the significance the association with Luxaviation brings, but it’s obviously a significant factor for many potential clients. She reckons: “What we’re really doing is winning greater exposure for the members and promoting companies who strive for the highest industry safety standards.”
Among the Charter Alliance companies, Starspeed is a Luxaviation Helicopters subsidiary, while there was also an existing working relationship with ExecuJet and its helicopter fleet in Mexico and South Africa, as well as HeliFlite and Azur Hélicoptère. By that reckoning, the benefits of the Luxaviation Helicopters Charter Alliance have already reached three other companies, but Pedersen explains the process of adding members in earnest only began in March.
“In fact, Azur Hélicoptère was the first company to join. We were in a meeting last year and I said: ‘I have an idea…’ The CEO really liked it and we decided to try it out. Then I called HeliFlite and said: ‘I have an idea…’ I explained it might not bring them any extra clients at all, but they thought it was worth a try too. They provided feedback after last summer, showing a 20% increase in charter enquiries.” Pedersen says there’s no evidence to suggest this was a direct result of HeliFlite’s association with Luxaviation, but it seems a reasonable assumption.
More companies are expected to join the Alliance soon, with Pedersen noting its intention to avoid promoting competing operators. On the other hand, she’s already seen members in one part of the world recommending clients to geographically very separate operators that they would never have known about had they not both been in the Alliance – exhibiting how the best operators in each region can work hand in hand to provide customers with an outstanding worldwide service.
Where paperwork is in order, assembled and delivered to Luxaviation quickly, new members may be confirmed in just three or four weeks. For operators where regional safety standards are perhaps less rigorously enforced, Luxaviation Helicopters Charter Alliance membership is likely to help them stand out. As Pedersen notes, plenty of companies have been flying for many years with fleets of ten or fewer helicopters and their continued survival is in itself an indication of the quality of their operation, regardless of local standards. But, she reckons, they may well lack the budget, or perhaps the expertise, to market themselves. They may have a website in only their own language, or even no website at all, and that’s where the Alliance pays real dividends – Luxaviation offering advice and help with marketing and websites. “We’re helping with every aspect of helicopter operations,” she says, “even going as far as inspecting an aircraft that an operator was looking to buy in another country.”
Luxaviation is a large and well-established company with buying power considerably greater than that of a typical Helicopter Alliance member. These smaller organisations therefore benefit from access to top quality training at more affordable prices, and may find the door opening to insurance and other deals that might otherwise never be offered. “Many of them have been operating from the same small airport for decades though, and we may not be able to improve on the arrangements they have in place with their local suppliers, so it’s important that we leave them to decide how best to satisfy their requirements. What we do really well and what we’re seeing happen, is bringing like-minded operators together, so they can adopt good ideas that are already working in other areas.”
Meanwhile, the helicopter remains by nature a local tool, less visible even at major trade shows, including NBAA-BACE and EBACE, than business jets or turboprops. That lack of visibility in part comes down to cost, where the proportion of an aircraft’s value accounted for in bringing it to the show and parking it is far greater for a helicopter than a jet. Nonetheless, Pedersen sees the OEMs making greater efforts to exhibit their helicopters, in part as interest grows in urban mobility vehicles, while the efforts of the Luxaviation Helicopter Charter Alliance, promoting outstanding, best-in-class, safe and efficient operations globally, have their own important role to play.