Ground handling specialist Cat Air Service, based at Zurich Airport, is a joint venture between Air Service Basel and Cat Aviation. The partnership was developed to provide a niche, tailor-made service for esteemed private aircraft operators arriving at the General Aviation Centre (GAC). With the experience and knowledge of an elite FBO facility in Basel (Air Service Basel) and the operational understanding and customer requirements of a private jet operator (CAT Aviation) this alliance provides the ultimate in aircraft and customer service.
“I joined Cat Aviation in May 2014 and they had six aircraft under management at the time. We saw a real requirement to introduce ground handling capabilities to service these aircraft and began talks with Air Service Basel to form the joint venture. The company, Cat Air Service, was founded in June 2014 and after five months of preparation was launched in November 2014,” Whitehead recalls.
Cat Aviation provided an immediate customer base, and in its first full month of operation, Cat Air Service handled over 40 aircraft movements, of all the business aviation traffic passing through Zurich Airport at the time. Today, a year after launching, Cat Air Service has increased its customer base and is handling more and more business aircraft movements a month.
“We provide a complete, all-round service for owners and operators – everything from organising landing permission and aircraft slots to making arrangements for taxis, limousines and hotels. We do all this in advance of the aircraft’s arrival at Zurich. We meet and greet the passengers on arrival and escort them through the GAC for clearance. They have the privacy of a private lounge or the convenience of stepping into their transport for a smooth onward journey. Our facilities provide a peaceful setting for the crew to unwind in our dedicated crew lounge,” he notes.
In September 2015 Zurich Airport won the coveted European Airport of the Year from World Travel Awards for the 12th year in succession and along with commercial operations can accommodate all sizes of business aviation jets. “What is important for our customers is that they do not need to undergo the main terminal experience; we take them through the dedicated GAC facilities for customs clearance, meeting them and guiding them through the whole process,” Whitehead says.
“Fixed base operations for business aviation is always challenging and we compete and differentiate our business on customer service – that’s why our customers keep returning. They pay for that value-added benefit. Corporate aircraft operators and passengers don’t want cheap, they want value for money and expect a quality service provider. It is important to give that individual touch, every time – a nice smile, a very big welcome and a smooth transit. Behind the scenes everything is being done to maximise their comfort,” he notes. “We have got a chic, smart facility, but the most important part is to offer a fantastic service at good value. We don’t want to charge high sums of money but if we offer a fair market price for an outstanding service we believe we can gain market share.”
Another difficulty at Zurich Airport, a busy commercial gateway, is that it is very much ruled by airport slots. “It is clear that the majority of traffic at Zurich Airport is commercial airlines, so for business aviation slots can be hard to come by at short notice. Moreover, the airport is often at maximum capacity and delays can be a regular occurrence, making operating in and out of the airport, as a business traveler, challenging.
“There is no doubt that Zurich is a busy airport; however as a prominent centre for business and commerce it is very convenient. The closest airports are over an hour away so Zurich is a major hub for private jets. Peak commercial times restrict traffic from business jets. If you are in Zurich and you have a business meeting at 8.00am in Paris, you are not able to guarantee a departure slot and this can leave no other alternative but to depart the night before. We can support our customers to understand the complexities of slot restrictions and help them to work out viable flight schedules to get to their destinations in a timely fashion,” he adds.
“We are steadily developing our business through offering the best service possible, a memorable customer experience and continuous personal attention. We’ve got great people on board with extensive know-how. I myself have been in this industry for over 30 years and am well known at Zurich Airport with a reputation for first-class service. We are very hot on training standards and quality control and are continuously improving through SMS,” notes Whitehead.
“Anticipating customer requirements each and every time is key. Regular visitors have their particular wishes and we remember what is important to them for next time. The passenger, the operator, the crew and the aircraft are our priority; every visit they will receive unrivalled attention to ensure they are looked after in every way,” he concludes.