FARNBOROUGH: Cardiff Aviation targets ACMI launch by early 2015

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MRO entrepreneur Bruce Dickinson is aiming to start Boeing 737 wet-lease operations by early 2015 – and expects business in Cardiff Aviation’s UK hangar to at least triple next year.

Dickinson – also the frontman in heavy-metal band Iron Maiden – and Cardiff Aviation co-founder Mario Fulgoni have acquired a 50% shareholding in UK helicopter charter specialist VVB Aviation. The Southend-based outfit has a Type B air operator’s certificate, but this is to be expanded to a Type A approval for air transport category flights.

Meanwhile, Dickinson and Fulgoni have arranged the lease of a Boeing 737-400 from an unnamed European lessor. The aircraft is due to arrive for a C-check at Cardiff Aviation’s “Twin Peaks” hangar at St Athan air base in south Wales by September. Depending on the timeline for VVB’s expanded AOC, the narrowbody is to be used for ACMI charter flights by year-end or early 2015, Dickinson told Flightglobal at the Farnborough air show. About five business jets will additionally be operated for air ambulance flights.

The narrowbody fleet is set to reach six to eight aircraft over the next one to two years, says Dickinson. Cardiff Aviation has established relationships with two leasing companies specialising in older A320s and 737 Classics. These are ready to provide a “continuous supply” of aircraft when needed, he says.

The aircraft are to be primarily used for ad-hoc charters in Europe during the summer and transferred to southeast Asia during the quieter winter season. Two BAE Systems Avro regional jets previously procured will meanwhile be returned to flyable status and operated under another European AOC, says Dickinson.

Cardiff Aviation has established a MRO partnership with Thai Airways’ technical arm, gaining access to capacity at a maintenance facility in Bangkok. But the Welsh hangar is to be fully used too, he says.

The two bays of the St Athan hangar have been rearranged to accommodate four narrowbodies.

Cardiff Aviation has also gained its own Part 145 approval after it started operations under the maintenance organisation certificate of UK partner BCT Aviation in late 2012. The new approval covers Classic and current-generation 737s, A320s and Avro regional jets.

During its first year of operations, Cardiff Aviation – which also includes a training arm – generated a business volume of around $2 million, says Dickinson. This is set to triple or quadruple in 2015, while maintenance capacity should double through additional staff and more shifts. The staff level currently stands at around 45 employees.

However, Dickinson expects that the business volume to grow to £50-100 million ($86-172 million) over the next five to eight years. “We [Dickinson and Fulgoni] wouldn’t sell it,” he says: “We want to build this thing for several years.”