Surfing the Olympic wave

posted on 11th June 2018

Ocean Sky doubles capacity at Luton hub as busy summer looms

Private aviation company Ocean Sky has announced a multi-million pound upgrade of its FBO at London Luton Airport, giving it the ability to handle the anticipated influx of international passengers into the UK for this summer’s Olympics. The work, in addition to expansion of Ocean Sky’s MRO and aircraft interiors operations at Luton, forms part of a wide-ranging investment programme across the group’s ground-based business. This complements its separately managed “air” business, comprising aircraft charter, management, brokerage, sales and acquisition.

The enlarged facilities will include a luxurious passenger lounge, a new concierge service and seamless screening. Luton will be able to cater for all types of business aircraft from helicopters to long-range business jets. CEO Stephen Grimes said: “We are forecasting a significant increase in turnover following the new FBO’s opening. With space for up to 30 aircraft at any one time we will have the capacity in our first year to double our annual movements.”

Ocean Sky started out as an aircraft broker in 2003 before expanding into full aircraft service by acquisition. In addition to its UK FBOs, the group has offices in Germany, Italy, Zurich and Moscow.

A 4,000sq metre hangar in Luton, acquired from charter airline Monarch in May 2010, operates as a sister facility to Ocean Sky’s engineering base in Manchester and is receiving a £350,000 makeover. Manchester and Luton are certified by Bombardier to carry out maintenance and warranty work across the full Learjet, Challenger and Global range of aircraft.

Work to resurface the floor and refurbish the office accommodation at Luton was scheduled to take five weeks through April and May. New tooling is being installed to increase capacity for heavier, more complex maintenance operations, and staffing levels will double to 20 by the end of this year. Alongside Bombardier, Luton also carries out line maintenance on Dassault and Cessna aircraft and is working to gain additional authorisations.

Ocean Sky now boasts the biggest multi-purpose engineering operation in Luton, second in size only to a dedicated Gulfstream facility that also saw significant investment last year. Gulfstream opened a 1,000sq metre parts warehouse and almost doubled the size of its main hangar to 7,000sq metres.

It’s part of an increasing success story for business aviation at Luton, which ranks in the top four in Europe for charter requests. Ocean Sky targeted the airport in 2009, when it first established an FBO there, now one of five together with Manchester, Glasgow Prestwick, Ibiza and Menorca.

“Luton was a big airport with just two existing providers,” says Natalie Raper, Ocean Sky’s Luton-based sales and marketing director. “There was space available for a new operator to start up and although it was a difficult time in the market, the weakness of commercial aviation probably made us more welcome. Business aviation has been a saviour here and has certainly paid its way.” (In a further, unrelated vote of confidence, entrepreneur Lord Sugar recently transferred an Embraer Legacy 650 from Stansted to Luton after appointing a new management company, Air Charter Scotland, for the aircraft.)

Luton currently sees around 3,000 business movements per month and this inevitably means a good deal of AOG work. If Ocean Sky has sufficient advance warning, it can order emergency parts in overnight from Frankfurt or Chicago, while the more commonly required parts are held in store at Luton and Manchester, Raper says.

The company is also set to open a new aircraft interiors department in Luton, again complementing its Manchester facility, as soon as this receives CAA approval. Ocean Sky’s design team has experience across a wide range of business jets including Bombardier, Airbus, Dassault Falcon, Hawker Beechcraft and Cessna aircraft, as well as Sikorsky, Bell and AgustaWestland helicopters, but the present Luton facility is essentially a paint and trim shop that forms part of the maintenance hangar.

In February, Ocean Sky announced it had entered into partnership with Avfuel Corp to provide an enhanced range of fuel and service solutions including contract fuel, marketing support and the Avtrip pilot incentive programme at Luton. It was only Avfuel’s second UK collaboration after the US company agreed in late 2011 to service the new Eurojet FBO at Birmingham Airport.

When the partnership was announced, Raper commented: “We are very much looking forward to working with Avfuel as the partnership will further strengthen Ocean Sky’s relationship with all customers flying into London Luton, particularly those from the US.”

Avfuel director of marketing Marci Ammerman added that the deal “fits well with our ambitions to grow our international portfolio, especially in Europe”.