I went for the first time to the Business and General Aviation Day at Marshall Airport Cambridge on Tuesday and was very impressed with what is a great networking opportunity for mostly brokers and suppliers in the UK business aviation community. Although the exhibition - in one of the Marshall hangars - was modest, the impressive static, with an Embraer Lineage 1000 and two Phenom 100s, as well as a couple of Cessna Mustangs, a Gulfstream 200 and a few helicopters, gave the impression of a mini-EBACE.
Thanks to FlairJet, I had the opportunity to make the 20min flight from Oxford to Cambridge on a Phenom 100 (see my story about rivalry between the two Oxbridge airports here). It was the first time I'd flown on the very light jet - the Oxford-based operator's third - and I was very impressed with the cabin and ramp appeal of the Brazilian jet. There is plenty room in the four-seat passenger area, as well as an extra/lavatory seat (although it would have to be an acute emergency before I considered using the facility just a curtain's width from an industry colleague or complete stranger, though I suppose like the parachute on the Cirrus SR-22 it's just good to know it's there).
I also had the chance to sit in the Mustang. Though also positioned as a VLJ, the Citation is considerably more cramped than the Phenom, and has a bulkhead where the 100's lav is. The Mustang's smaller windows don't help. Although the Mustang has one of the greatest brands in general aviation behind it and has done incredibly well with owner flyers in North America particularly, I do think that the Phenom 100 is an aircraft more suited to the charter market, especially in Europe. Flairjet, the first European operator of both the Phenom 100 and its bigger sister, the 300, appears to be doing well. However, the European air taxi charter market is a very precarious place to be at the moment, particularly at the lighter end. Although things are getting better, banks and other corporates are still wary of being seen to "flaunt" it in private jets and the surge of middle managers, professionals and upscale leisure flyers that the evangelists of the new VLJ/air taxi sector were predicting would emerge three years ago as a new market for lower-end business jets have not quite materialised.
It's not often that you get to see a prang in "slow motion" real time, but that's exactly what happened at the end of the show when exhibitors were manouevering out of the static display. The organisers - equipped with the first remote controlled robotic tug I've seen - were doing a great job of marshalling the aircraft out of what was a very tight space in front of the Marshall business aviation centre. But one truck driver, pulling a temporary cabin, clearly misjudged the height of his load and pinged the blade of an EC-135 belonging to Capital Air Services (pictured), right in front of managing director Michael Hampton, who was not best amused. The blade wobbled for some time. Not had it confirmed, but I suspect the helicopter would have been grounded pending an inspection.