Charter specialist AirX has entrusted its cabin standards and aircraft appearance to Up & Away. James Collins and Up & Away’s Stefan Murphy explain the relationship at a time when cabin hygiene is more important than ever.
Looking to elevate its already unusual charter offering even higher, AirX contracted aircraft cleaning and detailing specialist Up & Away in 2018. James Collins, Head of Marketing and Communications at AirX, explained: “We’re a very busy operator and our aircraft needed lots of regular attention to keep them looking at their best. We realised there was only one company that could deliver the service we wanted, to the standard we required.”
A contract was signed and Collins said Up & Away was already exceeding expectations when COVID-19 hit. “They immediately stepped up with solutions to problems we’d never faced before, recommending Bacoban products and specialist techniques for cabin disinfection.” Collins admitted that Up & Away had already made a ‘remarkable difference’ to the AirX product, ‘performing miracles’ in the cabin, while the COVID response was just a natural continuation of the ongoing programme.
In terms of its specialist cleaning and detailing offer to private aviation customers, Up & Away is among the largest, if not the largest company of its type in the world, with 80 staff serving private aviation in the UK alone. Founder and Managing Director Stefan Murphy believes this size suits Up & Away ideally to the AirX model. “They operate a diverse fleet, from Citation X up to an A340, and we can provide service at both ends of that spectrum. In between, since they are a charter operator and don’t know where their aircraft will be next, or when they’ll be flying, they need a cleaning service built around their business.
“We deliver the service they need between flights, whether the aircraft is available to us for two hours or two weeks. We’re always ready to deliver whenever they need us and wherever the aircraft is. We have teams based at eight UK locations, including six people at Stansted, where AirX bases its A340. In a case where only two days are available to turn the aircraft around, we’d need ten people on the job and our flexibility means four can come in from other locations. We also offer support within a 100-mile radius of any of our bases, and we’ll travel anywhere by prior arrangement.”
Up & Away works with AirX through a fixed-price deal offering a menu of services for each aircraft in the fleet. “Within that, we do what it takes to manage the aircrafts’ appearance,” Murphy says. “If we’ve been booked to do an internal event and notice the aircraft exterior is dirty, we’ll just carry on and clean that too. Equally, if the carpet’s dirty but hasn’t been booked, we’ll clean it. The arrangement avoids multiple bookings, each with a separate charge, and because AirX trusts us to get on with the work, there’s never any question about who’s responsible for booking events.”
Listening to Murphy describe his business, it’s quickly obvious that common sense and a willingness to listen to and work closely with clients are key factors in its success. “It’s how we’re able to work a fixed-price contract with AirX, but at the same time serve a private A109 owner who parks the helicopter on their lawn.”
In effect, AirX has transferred responsibility for how its fleet is presented entirely to Up & Away. And that goes deeper than cleaning alone. “Over a period of six to eight months, we also raised the standard of their cabins,” Murphy says. “We noticed leather seats with ink marks on them, or tears in upholstery, and had the experts we work with fix them. Once that process is complete, it’s just a case of maintaining the standard. And, when our team is there, looking in detail at the aircraft, they’ll also pick up on misaligned panels, minor damage, low-pressure tyres and the like, and report it as a matter of course.”
“We’ll never have the bandwidth to cover that type of detail in the cabin,” Collins admitted. “We give Up & Away very little instruction and they’ve just elevated our cabin standard and kept it that way. They often appear like magic – we say we’ve got an aircraft available overnight, for a day or two, and they appear, not as one or two people, but as a swarm! They properly work the aircraft, doing the brightwork outside and on the inside. It’s been a very solid investment for us.”
Once upon a time, cabin disinfection was something operators requested occasionally; now it’s a prerequisite between flights. AirX’s James Collins said that when COVID-19 hit, clients were asking how AirX was going to react. He candidly recalled that it was a case of ‘hang on, we need to work it out’. At which point, Up & Away’s Stefan Murphy called.
He’d secured a supply of quality disinfection and PPE products in advance of the crisis, having read the signs of an emerging pandemic. “While we kept an eye on EASA bulletins, we also put together some universal precaution kits to satisfy operator requirements in the aircraft – we made more than 700 before they became too expensive to be sustainable.
“Then we offered the items crews needed to disinfect down-route, until they could get back for us to fog the aircraft. I had a pallet of ‘foggers’ in stock before they became scarce and a supply of Bacoban, our preferred disinfection product. And thank goodness I did, because our business changed overnight from carpet cleaning, brightwork and removing pen marks from seats, to disinfecting pre- and post-trip as a priority. We’ve done almost 4,500 cabin disinfections since late February and we continue with between eight and ten every day in the UK, on top of the regular cleaning, because there’s no point disinfecting a dirty aeroplane.”