London Executive Aviation (LEA) - one of Europe's largest business aircraft charter and management companies - is eying expansion into West Africa to exploit the region's booming market for business aircraft. The UK-headquartered company is also seeking to expand its large cabin business jet fleet to accommodate rising demand for long-range travel.

LEA operates a fleet of 28 business aircraft and turboprops of which it owns nine. "We have a range of aircraft in our fleet from the Beechcraft King Air 200 twin turboprop and entry-level Citation Mustang to the large cabin Embraer Legacy 650 and Dassault Falcon 900LX," says LEA co-founder and managing director George Galanopoulos. "Since the credit crunch began over four years ago, demand for small cabin aircraft has fallen off. This sector has become very competitive and the operating margins are very low. Despite these challenges, we will continue to operate a mixed fleet so we can serve all sectors of the market."

LEA is gearing to take delivery of its first Embraer Phenom 300 before the end of February but it is the top end of the traditional business jet sector that is driving LEA's growth, says Galanopoulos. "Demand for long-range travel is on the rise and our main focus is to build our fleet of large cabin aircraft."

LEA added four new aircraft last year - two Challenger 300s and two Legacy 600-series twinjets, making it the world's largest operator of this type with a fleet of nine. An Estonia-based Challenger 605 and a Dassault Falcon 2000LX will be added to the line-up by the end of March.

LEA's fleet is scattered around Europe and it is seeking to set up a base in Athens to serve the Balkans, Turkey and Italy. "We would like to base an aircraft in the Middle East. This is a hard market to break into so we will probably tie up with a local operator,' says Galanopoulos.

LEA has set its sights on the nascent West African market, for which the Falcons and Legacies are perfectly suited, adds Galanopoulos. "We are looking at Nigeria initially as there is already an support infrastructure in place there. LEA is looking to secure short, medium and long-term contracts with local and international businesses rather than rely on the more volatile ad hoc charter work."

Source: Flight International