Chief executive Heinz Köhli believes Jet Aviation is ideally placed to take advantage of the business aviation boom

It is boom time for business aviation and a great time to be at the helm of one of the leading service providers in this thriving industry.

Since its formation 40 years ago by the late Carl Hirschmann, Jet Aviation has built an enviable reputation as a gilt-edged, customer-focused provider of aircraft charter, sales, fixed-based operations (FBO), maintenance and interior completions, bearing all the hallmarks of a quality Swiss company.

Chief executive and company veteran Heinz Köhli is passionate about expanding the Jet Aviation brand globally and is well positioned to propel the company forward having served on the management team for nearly 32 years, the last three in his current position.

"We are a big Swiss cheese," Köhli enthuses. "Jet Aviation is the only business aviation company that covers all aviation activity." The Zurich-based company currently boasts more than a dozen main facilities and more than 20 support bases worldwide.

The takeover in 2005 of this family-run business by European private-equity firm Permira did raise a few hackles. Many observers feared that the new owners, devoid of business aviation know-how, would disband the revered Jet Aviation brand by selling off its most profitable activities.

However, Köhli's continuing stewardship of the company reassured many customers and allayed the fears, which subsequently proved unfounded. Rather than stymie growth, Permira has provided financial backing to Jet Aviation on its aggressive acquisition trail - with US maintenance, completions and FBO icon Midcoast Aviation the first major purchase.

Köhli says the acquisition of Midcoast from Sabreliner Aviation last February has bolstered Jet Aviation's position across the USA - the world's largest business aviation market - where its presence had been largely limited to the East Coast since it arrived over 20 years ago with a charter office in New York. Jet Aviation now has an FBO in Dallas as well as a charter, sales refurbishment and fixed-base operation in West Palm Beach, Florida.

Köhli says: "While Midcoast has enhanced our presence in the Midwest it has dramatically improved our maintenance, repair and overall [MRO] capability in the USA," where the Jet Aviation brand is synonymous with FBO and charter services.

This contrasts with its image in Europe where Jet Aviation is a renowned MRO and completions provider. Köhli admits there are challenges and benefits to merging a European company with a North American one and, due to its high brand recognition in North America, Midcoast has retained its title. "There are lots of synergies and we have improved processes and learned from each other," he says. "The volume of sales in Europe and the USA is more attractive and strengthens our buying power."

This practice extends to the purchasing of parts as well as new companies, and Permira's deep pockets are ready to be plundered. "We will continue to grow through acquisition," Köhli says. "Looking ahead to North America, we intend to have FBOs in all the strategic locations including Chicago, San Francisco, Los Angeles and St Louis." Jet Aviation is also eying acquisitions across the globe to add to its enviable portfolio of thriving FBOs in Europe, the Middle East and Asia Pacific.

In the emerging markets, however, the focus is on organic growth. Köhli points to China, India and Russia as the key locations where the company is actively "looking for opportunities". To get a foothold, for example, in the notoriously bureaucratic, yet highly lucrative Russian market, Köhli says Jet Aviation is seeking to establish up to three hangars at Moscow Domodedovo airport, "where we plan to offer FBO services and aircraft management".

Jet Aviation has built a thriving business out of supervising the aircraft of individuals and corporations, most of which form the backbone of its bustling charter business which Köhli says is growing at a rate of around 10% a year. Jet Aviation manages around 160 aircraft including 110 in Europe, the Middle East and the Far East.

The company's decision to move away from aircraft ownership into management has contributed to a significant reduction in its overheads. Köhli says: "We no longer own any aircraft in the USA, but in Europe we need to own a minimum of three aircraft to retain our air operator's certificate."

The boom in the charter market is symptomatic of the wider explosion in business aviation, and Jet Aviation has been swift to capitalise on the growth in aircraft sales at its Midcoast completion centre in the USA and its base in Basle, Switzerland. Here, Köhli says, Jet Aviation is expanding its facilities by around 60% by adding another hangar large enough to house a Airbus A380 or Boeing 747-8.

"Basle has benefited from the new completion market for widebodies. We have captured the 747-400, the 757 and the A330," he says, adding that the facility could perform up to 10 A380 corporate conversions over the next 10-15 years. "It depends on the economic situation as much of the potential business is from oil-producing Gulf countries. If the oil price remains high, we see a good future."

Basle is also the only centre to which Dassault outsources its Falcon business jet completions, which account for up to 20 aircraft a year. Köhli says: "They are high-end clientele with special requirements and we have enjoyed a long-standing and close relationship with them."

As Jet Aviation enters its fifth decade, Köhli is reflective: "I remember clearly when we were a $20 million company. Today we are a $2 billion company and growing. Our mission is to be number one worldwide."

Source: Flight International