In May, Peter Edwards, former boss of Bombardier's business aviation arm, became the first outsider to run business aviation services group Jet Aviation. Appointing a well-known industry veteran after former chief executive Heinz Kohli's resignation in March - five months after the family-owned company's purchase by private capital group Permira Funds - may have been low-risk. But it signalled the new owner's aim to expand the Jet Aviation brand aggressively after 40 years of Hirschmann rule.

Under Kohli - who quit citing "differences over the company's future strategy" - Jet Aviation went on an expansion spree. It moved into the North American maintenance and completions market, acquiring St Louis-based Midcoast Aviation, and strengthened its Middle East presence with a fixed-base operation in Dubai. Kohli's continuing presence under Permira reassured a market where reputation is everything that Jet Aviation's Swiss values would not be eroded by new masters anxious for rapid returns on investment.

Edwards, who was at Gulfstream before joining Bombardier, is keener to stress Jet Aviation's long-term commitment to the market than comment on what happened in those five months after the takeover. "When I was at Bombardier, Jet Aviation had a great history and reputation. The company I joined is the company I expected to find," he says. However, Jet Aviation had an "aggressive building programme to increase capacity and there was a need to quickly validate the assumptions behind it to make sure the plan held up".

The fact the business aviation services market continued to grow during his early tenure meant concerns over Jet Aviation overstretching itself were quickly brushed aside. "Backlogs on widebody business jets had extended considerably and we have been winning new contracts almost weekly," he says.

Jet Aviation was founded in Zurich in 1967 and has 5,200 employees across 20 sites in eight countries. It is the only business aviation services company with a presence in fixed-base operations, line maintenance and aircraft management - where it competes with ExecuJet and TAG Aviation outside the UK - and in large business jet conversions and completions, a lucrative sector where its main rival outside original equipment manufacturers is Lufthansa Technik.

Jet Aviation manages 200 aircraft and has sites in Basle, Geneva, Lugano and Zurich in Switzerland Düsseldorf, Hanover and Kassel in Germany and London Biggin Hill in the UK. In Asia and the Middle East there are operations in Dubai, Jeddah, Riyadh, Hong Kong and Singapore, while US bases are in Boston, Chicago, Dallas, Palm Beach, St Louis and Teterboro.

Completions is its most dynamic market. The company's main centre, at Basle, is undergoing a SFr35 million ($30 million) refurbishment. A 35,000m2 (377,000ft2) widebody completions hangar, due to open next year and able to handle an Airbus A380 and Boeing 747-8, will increase floorspace to 80,000m2, and free the existing eight smaller hangars for maintenance and smaller business jet completions.

Edwards has appointed two chief operating officers to run the North American and European/rest of the world businesses. "We had outgrown our fairly flat family structure, and we've put in some vertical structure. It's one that's growth adaptive," he says. "The idea has been to focus on respective customer bases in both regions and ensure the full range of Jet Aviation products is being offered. As our completions operations have stepped up, we have found we have an extremely high capture rate on maintenance. We want to continue this with Midcoast, capturing US customers that operate overseas into our international network."

Two services have been added to the portfolio. At the European Business Aviation Association convention in May 2006, Jet Aviation launched a charter programme, Skylliance, using the fleets of partner operators under a soft franchising deal. The venture has six members based in Europe, offering 20 aircraft, and there are plans to extend it to the Middle East. This year, an alliance between Jet Aviation and Jetcraft has seen the launch of Jetcraft Trading, a consultancy service for aircraft sales and acquisitions. The intention, he says, is to keep "filling gaps in our service delivery".

Following Midcoast, other "tactical" acquisitions are on the cards: "I can't say too much about it, but they will add to our capabilities. We are pretty heavily weighted in MRO and completions so we are looking at FBOs." Edwards will not elaborate, but Landmark's US network of 33 FBOs - being disposed of after its acquisition by Dubai Aerospace Enterprise - must be in the running.

With Russia's business aviation market booming, Moscow is number one overseas target. "It's a challenging and complex business environment, but we will get it done," says Edwards. "Numbers of incoming aircraft are immense and OEMs [original equipment manufacturers] need support. We would like to at least plant a flag in 2008." After that, Jet Aviation is "continuing to evaluate" Brazil, and other priorities include "enhancing our capabilities in Dubai" and "looking at China".

Despite a squeeze on completions capacity and a flurry of new entrants into the services sector as the worldwide business aircraft fleet to surge, Edwards believes Jet Aviation is safe from predators. "The work ethic is fantastic. We have an extremely committed workforce with a core engineering capability to do large complex tasks," he says.

"I'm not really worried about people coming into this business because what we do is extremely hard. You can build a hangar and put people into it, but it takes years to develop competencies and systems. There is little risk of the space being commoditised. These are high-end tasks and there are only a handful of us in the world that people trust their aircraft to. We feel we are the leader."

Source: Flight International