The Belgian subsidiary of Luxembourg-based aircraft management and charter operator group Luxaviation is seeing healthy demand for intra-Europe charter flying as well as strong interest from people and companies wanting to purchase a business aircraft, either in co-ownership or full ownership. “The corona crisis has impacted us profoundly, but it also has created new opportunities,” Ward Bonduel, CEO of Luxaviation Belgium, told AIN on the sidelines of a Gulfstream G500 and G280 demo-tour at its base in Kortrijk-Wevelgem.
Medium-haul, intra-Europe charter flight activity has risen 15 to 20 percent since the pandemic as leisure and business passengers have switched from scheduled to private flying, partly because of network reductions by airlines and also because of a desire to fly in a more cocooned environment, avoiding crowded airports and large aircraft. “We responded to that demand for safer air travel with several initiatives,” Bonduel said. New procedures include cabin disinfection after each flight and surface testing to detect coronaviruses inside the aircraft in cooperation with hygiene service solutions provider Eurofins. “We never had a positive test result,” he confirmed.
Luxaviation Belgium has bases at the airports of Kortrijk and Brussels-Zaventem. It also conducts FBO and technical services under the ExecuJet brand.
All of its long-range jets, however, are still idle due to intercontinental travel restrictions. “Certainly to the U.S. we expect a robust recovery once travel to the country opens up,” Bonduel asserted. Luxaviation Belgium operates a diversified fleet, which, he said, helped dampen the financial impact of the pandemic. “The higher level of European charter flying has partly compensated for the lack of long-haul ops, but we are not yet back to pre-Covid levels financially as the larger aircraft contribute more in terms of revenue and margins,” he explained.
Luxaviation Belgium manages 22 aircraft on behalf of its owners—eight Dassault Falcon 7Xs and 8Xs, one Falcon 900, and two Falcon 2000s; one Bombardier Challenger 350 and one Challenger 600; three Cessna Citation Excels, one Citation II, one Citation III, and two Citation IVs; and two Beechcraft King Air 250s. Two of the Falcon 7Xs are operated under a 12-year dry-lease agreement by the Belgian Air Force to assure flights for members of the Belgian royal family, ministers of the Belgian government, and European institution officials.
The pandemic revived and even expanded interest from local investors in acquiring business aircraft, according to Bonduel. Over the past year, the company has assisted in the acquisition of a Falcon 7X, a Global 5500, and five King Air 250s/260s. Two examples of the Textron Aviation turboprop have already joined the fleet (they are registered on the Luxembourg AOC); a third aircraft will be delivered in the third quarter and a further two in 2022. Discussions are ongoing with customers eying the purchase of another new King Air 260 and a Citation CJ4 Gen2.
While renewed interest in both preowned and new business aircraft ownership extends to all types and operating ranges, Bonduel noticed a stronger interest in turboprops. “Potential buyers were considering the Pilatus PC-12 but as a company, we decided to focus [our advisory services] on the King Air 250 and 260,” he said, describing the twin-engine turboprop as a “rewarding” aircraft.
“The aircraft has low operating costs for its owners and its charter capacity offers the possibility to travel in Europe, for business or pleasure, in a budget-friendly manner with a private-aviation feeling,” noted Bonduel. An additional advantage is the aircraft’s capability to access airports with runways between 1,000 and 1,500 m (3,280-4,921 feet). “For instance, our customers can fly directly to La Môle–Saint-Tropez Airport in France while with a jet they would need to fly to Cannes, Toulon, or Nice airports,” he remarked.