Troubles mount for UK’s PremiAir as CAA suspends licence

Mystery surrounds the fate of one of the UK’s oldest business aviation providers, after the country's regulator suspended its Air Operator Certificate and the firm was apparently locked out of its base.

PremiAir Aviation Services (PAS) – which traces its roots back more than 30 years to McAlpine Aviation Services – operates a helicopter charter, management and engineering business from Blackbushe airport, to the west of London.

However, despite repeated attempts to contact the Blackbushe office, no-one from the company was answering calls.

The UK Civil Aviation Authority confirms in a licensing update issued on 26 August that PAS’s licence was suspended effective 22 July. However, the CAA declines to specify a reason for the move.

Staff at Blackbushe airport say PAS has been locked out of its hangar by site owner British Car Auctions (BCA). However, BCA declines to comment on the matter.

Despite its long history, PAS has recently fallen on hard times. The administration of then-owner Andrew Davis’s von Essen hotel chain in 2012 led to the sell-off of his controlling stake in PremiAir Aviation Group in November that year, when it was acquired by businessman Graham Avery.

However, faced with the potential winding-up of the group, PAS and two sister companies were sold – for £1 each – to PremiAir Helicopter Group, another of Avery’s companies. They were subsequently transferred on 10 May 2013 to another related and newly set up company – PremiAir Aviation International, also owned by Avery.

Meanwhile, Avery – who held a floating charge over the group via yet another of his businesses, PCC Int’l – placed what remained of PremiAir Aviation Group into administration on 14 January 2013. A statement of affairs prepared by Alan Clark, of Essex-based Carter Clark, puts the group’s total deficiency at £14.1 million ($23.4 million).

Meanwhile, those businesses transferred out continued to trade. According to PAS's annual accounts for the 18 months ended 30 June 2013, the business plan for 2013 and 2014 aimed to “restore its fortunes, high reputation and its future development”. The firm’s prospects are “encouraging” it says, as it added more helicopter management contracts during the period.

At the Helitech show in October last year, Avery boasted that PAS was a restructured and “lean, debt-free business”, which hoped to turn the Blackbushe facility into what it called the “West London Heliport”.

“My goal is to bring the company back to its former glory,” said Avery in a press release issued at the time.

However, despite the promises, the PAS accounts – signed off on 6 June 2014 – include a warning from the firm’s auditors PKF Littlejohn about its ability to continue as a going concern, as its operating loss reached £2.1 million during the period. Net assets were just £886,813.

Operating performance has improved under the ownership of Avery, PKF says, and forecasts suggested this trend would continue until 2016, with the business “returning to a profitable and sustainable position”. But in the interim it suggests PremiAir might be unable to generate sufficient cash flow from its own operations, “and is reliant upon funding provided by its ultimate owner, Mr Graham Avery”.

Avery, it says, promises to support the company “for a period of at least 12 months from the date of approval of these accounts”.

However, reliance on a single source for funding “represents a material uncertainty that may cast a significant doubt on the company’s ability to continue as a going concern”, it adds.

PAS’s prospects have not been helped by the resignation of its chief executive, however. Keith Marshall – a Northrop Grumman and Selex ES veteran – was appointed on 8 January this year, but elected to leave the business in late May.

Marshall says that information required to develop a strategy for the business had not been forthcoming. He says he feels “desperately sad” for the company’s employees and investors, and is concerned about the financial security of the business.

There is also confusion over the location of PAS’s registered office. Documents filed at the UK’s Companies House show it was changed on 30 July to the address of insolvency practitioners Carter Clark.

However, Carter Clark denies knowledge of the move, and stresses it is not acting as administrator for either PAS or its ultimate parent company Premier Aviation International, which similarly changed its registered address on 30 July.

Graham Avery declines to comment. “It would be inappropriate to be writing about any aspects of the company at the moment,” he says.