Headquartered alongside its Geneva FBO, TAG Aviation Europe also operates FBOs at Sion, Farnborough and on Malta. Unusual among business aviation service providers, alongside its FBOs the company offers aircraft management, charter, MRO and training, for a mix most would actively avoid. TAG Aviation Europe President Aircraft Management and Charter, Graham Williamson explains: “TAG Aviation was formed as TAG USA and the shareholders subsequently acquired Geneva’s Aeroleasing, along with its airport facility at Geneva, which already offered support services for engineering, FBO and so on. Aeroleasing owned 22 aircraft and operated as a charter company, while at its peak, TAG USA was a management organisation with around 150 aircraft. Later we switched from owning aircraft to managing them, but retained the ability to provide a full range of services as a one-stop shop.
“Today, this structure enables us to offer a range of highly tailored, bespoke services, while the multiple revenue streams that result also help us flatten commercial peaks and troughs. What’s now the TAG Group includes three separate divisions within TAG Europe, Farnborough Airport, under Brandon O’Reilly, my aircraft charter and management component, and Franck Madignier as President Maintenance and FBO Services. We actually deliver a very bespoke product, including maintenance for third-party operators, via an airline-like structure.”
Florent Series, SVP Sales Europe, Aircraft Management and Charter Services, adds: “In Geneva people used to say that TAG was a ‘school for private aviation’ and if you look around the industry today, you’ll see many people who learned the business working with TAG. It used to be the case that if you wanted to learn private aviation, you went to TAG and then decided what you wanted to do next.”
It reflects a reputation for excellence and straightforward business that has served TAG Aviation well in its 50-year history to date. By way of further illustration, Williamson recalls his first meeting as a TAG employee, during a visit to Poland with the then Group CEO, to advise a client thinking of buying a Falcon. He was surprised when the CEO told the client: “Buy a NetJets card, not an aircraft. You don’t fly enough hours, you’ll end up paying far more than you need to and you’ll be disappointed.” “I recently did the same thing myself, recommended different choices that didn’t necessarily benefit TAG in the short term. But in the long term, if that client goes away feeling we’re straight and honest, and give good advice, then that’s a sound investment.”
Series says nurturing client relationships is all important. “Our heritage as an aircraft owner means we were known as a pure charter company with lots of direct clients. Now, although we’ve transitioned to owning no aircraft, we’ve maintained that relationship with direct clients. It makes a very strong basis for TAG’s activity – unlike any other operator, between 80 and 85% of our revenue stream comes from direct clients, rather than via brokers.”
Business and VIP aviation is a complicated and at times over-complex industry, but TAG Europe takes a refreshingly simple approach to charter. It currently offers Call & Fly, TAG Account and TAG Lease options, apparently so easy to understand that their titles pretty much explain exactly what they offer, yet it is looking for further simplification.
“Over time, the options for chartering an aircraft have become convoluted and bloated,” Williamson says, “with many operators and brokers competing to provide something unique, usually at the expense of simplicity, transparency and clarity. Over the next few months, TAG will be launching its ONE Account to replace the TAG Account – in our opinion it’s the simplest, most cost-effective and transparent product on the market.
“ONE Account offers real time availability with best available pricing, confirmations that don’t require contracts, no surcharges or additional fees, deposits that can be refunded at any time, for any reason, and no expiry dates. Throughout all of this the key difference is that this hasn’t been created to boost sales, but rather to make charters easier and more convenient for our clients.”
“We don’t want to remove the human interaction with our clients, we want to embrace the technology to simplify their experience. The idea is that the client should be just one click away from booking at any time. We prepare everything in advance and when a client needs an aircraft they’ll receive a few offers on their device. They’ll select the aircraft they want, and press confirm. That’s it. But there’ll absolutely always be a TAG person attached to that client’s account,” Series says.
Williamson reinforces the point: “Personal relationships and accountability are TAG’s backbone and one of the reasons we’ve elected not to work with the current offering of online brokers. We feel that when you’re buying any high quality, bespoke product, whether an automobile, hotel stay or aircraft charter, personal service is of the utmost importance; all our charter transactions therefore include personal contact.
“Over the years we’ve tried to avoid the commoditisation of charter and business aviation, because for us it’s not just about the price. Avinode and other products, people attempting to ‘Uberise’ the industry, are serving a particular market for people who want the benefits of a business jet in terms of speed, security and flexibility, but are really driven by price. And that’s fine. It means we need to be competitive, but we still have customers who come to us for all their travel needs simply because they trust us to choose the right product for whatever they want to do. We believe there’s always a right solution for the client and we appreciate that it’s not always us. Our philosophy is: ‘Come to us, tells us what you need, and we’ll take care of it’.”
It goes without saying, therefore, that TAG is exceptionally careful about where it places its charter customers. “As with all things, we really focus on the client and doing the right thing for them, depending on the mission, their budget, type requirements and location. In many cases we’ll fulfil their charter requirement with an aircraft from one of the TAG AOCs, but we also sub-charter aircraft from reliable Preferred Partners to complement our own managed fleet. Our Preferred Partner have agreed to deliver service to our standards. It’s not a commercial agreement but purely and simply focussed on providing the best for our clients.”
TAG employs dedicated crew for its managed fleet and recognises that many regular passengers have crew they get on particularly well with: “On request and where possible, we will always try to accommodate their preference”. Williamson is also careful to note that while its crews are TAG’s company face, its back-office teams also deliver the extremely high, consistent standards that are its benchmark.
TAG Aviation Europe maintains a modest FBO footprint, with only three facilities and two of those in Switzerland. It’s a marked contrast to some of its competitors, which seem committed to unstoppable expansion through acquisition of existing businesses, branding and building. Williamson says: “Farnborough and Geneva are strategic locations for TAG operations, and handling our clients there is key, but further handling opportunities might arise in the future, linked with other activities, such as operations or line stations.”
Looking ahead, Williamson reckons: “We’ll improve our use of technology, completing the harmonisation of procedures and processes, grow the managed fleet, seek complimentary opportunities and invest in our staff.
“Looking at the industry as a whole, I think technology will impact access and visibility but should primarily enhance customer service and experience. Some companies will attempt to commoditise further, but TAG will continue offering its premium service, without compromise, to those who want a wholly individual product tailored to their needs. We anticipate organic growth by sticking to our core values, providing exceptional service and always finding solutions.
“Having said that, we aren’t against the companies that come into the game with their apps and web-based charter solutions. But it’s a concern that if a client charters from someone with a laptop in an office, there’s no back-up if things go wrong; if we have a client with a issue, we stay late and fix it, we keep working until we’ve solved the problem.
“Yet at the same time, these newcomers are growing the market. It’s similar to how the low-cost airlines stimulated the commercial air travel market when they first appeared. The mainline carriers initially felt threatened, but it was actually the railways that were under threat, while people who perhaps flew from London to Dublin to visit their grandmother once a year, could now do it three times a year. So, people flew more often and came to appreciate the possibilities of air travel and we see people appreciating the benefits of private aviation through app and online bookings and eventually becoming our customers – we’re happy for anyone to promote the values of business aviation; it’s not all about champagne and wealth, it’s a vastly useful business tool that opens up an enormous number of city pairs and brings real benefit to industry.”