Associated Aircraft Group (AAG) and PremiAir are on the hunt for more partners to join their Global Executive Helicopter Network after launching the new venture on 1 May.

Following the tie-up, New York-based AAG and Oxford, UK-headquartered PremiAir aim to offer an integrated executive helicopter service to their clients spanning the north-eastern USA and London and the south-east of England, as well as other parts of Europe.

Sikorsky-owned AAG manages a fleet of 10 S-76s and this year celebrates its 20th anniversary. PremiAir is owned by luxury hotel operator von Essen Group and has its 30th birthday this year. Its fleet of 15 executive helicopters includes seven S-76s following the recent addition of a VIP S-76C++ under management, making it the largest European operator of the type.

The Global Executive Helicopter Network is run by AAG Global, a brand of Sikorsky Fractional Sales, and member operators are safety-audited by Aviation Research Group/US .

"The whole thing is a branding exercise," says AAG Global executive vice-president Tom McQuade. "You're taking the strongest brand in London and the strongest brand in New York for charter helicopter services, along with the strongest brand that I know of for [safety] auditing services, and forming an operation where each brand supports the other brand. We bring that to the public and say: 'This is the kind of operation that you want to fly with'."

Sikorsky S-76C++
 © PremiAir

One issue that AAG and PremiAir say they constantly grapple with is that few customers bother to properly audit helicopter operators before booking their services.

"We know in our minds there are things we can do to go above the minimum standards," says PremiAir group managing director David McRobert. He notes that AAG and PremiAir use twin turbine helicopters crewed by two pilots and certificated for operation in instrument meteorological conditions.

"Ninety per cent of customers do not know what questions to ask," says McRobert.

Talks are ongoing with potential new members of the Global Executive Helicopter Network in Florida, Germany, Belgium and the Middle East, says McQuade. "We're following Sikorsky sales," he says, adding that prospective members must operate at least one Sikorsky helicopter.

McRobert says: "The bottom line is that if you're an executive helicopter user and you want a helicopter in Paris, Berlin, the south of France, Rio de Janeiro or Hong Kong, the ultimate is to grow the network to the point where you can book a helicopter anywhere in the world using a network operator and you know it's going to be safe and you're going to get the 'Rolls-Royce' of services.

"You might think it's a fairly small start, but to get the show on the road we've put together the two most important executive helicopter centres in the world, and now we've got to work hard to add operators in other key markets around the world. There won't be that many. There are not really that many markets in the world that can support executive helicopter operations."

The economic downturn is creating challenges for both AAG and PremiAir, but the cloud may have a silver lining.

"We back up a lot of corporate flight departments that may close down and use us instead," says McQuade. "Also some owners are putting their helicopters on the market and using charter services."

McRobert says some companies turn to helicopters in a recession as a productivity tool to help them make do with slimmed-down management teams.

PremiAir manages and operates The London Heliport at Battersea, which is the UK capital's only commercial heliport. New business aviation terminal facilities are due to come on line at the site later this year, connected to a five-star hotel development.

AAG was founded by Vietnam War helicopter pilot John Agor two decades ago, and was acquired by Sikorsky in 1999.

Source: Flight Daily News