Tim Procter is Managing Director of charter business Air Charter Travel Ltd. Celebrating its 25th anniversary this year, the company has built a solid reputation as a specialist within the international large group charter sector.
When did you start working in aviation and what attracted you to the business?
Straight after school, I applied to Dan-Air for a job in their charter department and was offered the job there and then. I told the MD I could start that day, but he told me to take the summer off as it would be the last holiday I would ever have.
Why did you decide to work with group charters above all?
The job at Dan-Air involved working with large group charters, so I was thrown in at the deep end, so to speak. They always took a lot of planning and were certainly challenging at first, but it was immensely satisfying watching the charter pan out well and to see the customer return to work with us again. It was also an exciting business because no single charter was ever the same. There is always huge variety whether it is taking Manchester United to the Champions League, a group of senior executives of a major car manufacturer to a launch or the Chinese Vice-Premier to the Brussels Parliament.
How does your average working week pan out?
Each member of our broking team deals exclusively with their client from start to finish for every fixture, and often fly on the client flight to ensure all goes to plan. My role is to oversee their planning, future liaison meetings, supplier contracts and the business administration that exists between us, charterers and airlines. My key aim each week is to ensure our brokers have the best tools to do their job. It's also our role to bridge the communication gap between a client who has perhaps never chartered an aircraft before, and an established airline that does it 50 times a day - our understanding of how this process works adds real value to the arrangements.
How much research do you do for each group charter?
The key to our pre-flight planning is to completely understand the reason behind the charter. For example, car launches are prestigious, so we need to consider those concerns, this whilst football teams are time sensitive in terms of when they need to be at their match. Exhibition organisers need several hundred passengers flown simultaneously, and government flights have to be treated with the utmost discretion. It is essential that we clearly distinguish these special charters scheduled flights, so undertake considerable research to really understand the clients need.
What's your biggest challenge?
No contingency planning in the world will cover you for every eventuality. A good example of this was when last December, 300 VIP travel agents attending a business travel exhibition were checking in at seven branded desks, and we'd arranged pre-printed headrest covers on every aircraft seat, full, hot English breakfasts with Buck's Fizz were on board and an exhibition guide provided for pre-planning was on every seat. However, everything came to a grinding halt when Gatwick, along with all of southern England, became covered in a metre of snow. When all around you seems to be going wrong, a sense of humour is vital.
Which is your favourite aspect of the job?
I've often been quietly flattered by airlines who have adopted our own pre-flight briefing sheets; it suggests we're doing something really right. There's also a certain satisfaction when clients try to make arrangements on their own and quickly come back to us asking for our involvement again. There will always be a future for a charter broker who represents real value in a deal between the carrier and customer.
What does the future hold for Air Charter with a challenging economy?
Whilst we've been doing this job for 25 years, the most important point is not to get complacent. A good measure of our continued ability is that airlines and clients themselves still recommend their own prospects/contacts to us. That's one of the best testimonies that we can ever have.