Secrets of Success: London Executive Aviation

What is your start-up story?

London Executive Aviation (LEA) is a private aviation charter operator. George Galanopoulos, his wife, Amanda and I founded the business in 1996. LEA started with just a post-war hut in Stapleford, one pilot (George) and one propeller powered aircraft. Initially we flew jockeys to racecourses around the country but we saw the opportunity in the wider market to deliver a higher quality of aviation services. For example, we were the first executive air charter firm to obtain European Joint Aviation Authority certification, the first to introduce the world’s most popular business jet, the Cessna Citation Excel to the UK charter market, and the first to introduce the low-cost, four-passenger Citation Mustang jet into charter service.

What is your turnover, employee numbers etc compared to previous years?
In terms of turnover, we are up 26 per cent this financial year. Our employee numbers are at their pre-recession strength and we have opened a new office in Athens. We have also added six new aircraft to our diverse fleet of aircraft.

What products or services do you provide?
We offer two principle services. For aircraft owners, a key part of our business is providing aircraft management services, taking care of matters such as maintenance, flight planning, catering, pilot training and insurance.

The second principle service is aviation chartering, which provides a source of income for aircraft owners to offset some of the costs. This is where the aircraft are made available to people to charter on a trip by trip basis. We are one of the leading business aviation charter companies in Europe. LEA’s client list includes investment banks and other financial institutions; businesses of all sizes; celebrities from music, entertainment and sport; high net worth individuals; and government.

By managing a range of aircraft we can cater to all our customer needs: from small groups requiring transport to Europe, to those needing to fly across the Atlantic. Our medium-range Embraer Legacy 650s, for example, are among the most desirable aircraft in their class. The three-zone cabin design allows the flexibility of an office and conference area, along with a more relaxed area complete with TV and sofa.

What problem does your company solve?
There is a rapid globalisation in business, with larger regional and international territories needing to be covered. Despite the growth, time remains a key factor for the business executive. With LEA our customers take control of their travel arrangements; passengers can visit more destinations, attend more meetings in a single day if required. We ensure the crowds and stress of busy commercial airports are removed.

What is your USP?
Unrivalled customer service. We are large enough to have good infrastructure resources but still provide the highest quality of personal service to our clients. We provide the full range of private jet charter, sales and aircraft management services, but at the same time, any one of our clients can pick up the phone and speak directly to myself or George Galanopoulos. It is our diversity of services and intimacy that sets us apart from our competitors.

Any thoughts on the future of your company?
The business aviation industry has a bright future, with an ever greater demand for private aviation services in the coming years. Our challenge as a business is to decide when to invest. We continue to look for new opportunities for the business and to further enhance our offering, hence the expansion of the fleet.

Additionally, LEA has a great deal of experience of managing larger aircraft, such as the Embraer Legacy 650 and the Dassault Falcon 2000, which is where our industry has seen the strongest growth in recent years.

What have you done to make sure you get the right people with the right skills in place?
There is a huge expectation from our customers and aviation clients on the level of service we provide. Each crew member is trained in looking after our passengers and we ensure the competency and quality of our crew is regularly verified by outside auditors. Given the high profile nature of some of our clients (government and celebrities) we have to be at the very top of our game at all times. Safety is paramount; the reliability of our crew and equipment is constantly checked, re-checked and independently verified.

Do you have any tips for managing suppliers and customers effectively?
It is important to put yourself into your customer’s shoes. What do they need and feel? How can we make their lives easier? LEA, for example, builds profiles of all our customers: what refreshments do they usually require onboard, do they require specific services, and how do they like to be addressed. This ensures customers can book their travel arrangements through LEA in a matter of moments, safe in the knowledge everything is as they expect.

In terms of our suppliers, as highlighted above, safety is of vital importance to the aviation industry. Therefore, all of our suppliers, such as maintenance staff and caterers, have to be externally audited on a regular basis to ensure quality.

Any advice for the Government?
I find it disappointing that the Government sees business aviation as an easy target. Perhaps they see private aviation passengers as a bunch of fat cats, swilling from bottles of champagne. Actually the reality is very different. These passengers are flying across Europe and the world, creating jobs and wealth for Britain. In the UK, business aviation contributes €3.6bn to the economy. According to the General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) and the International Business Aviation Council (IBAC), across Europe the figure is even higher, bringing over €20bn to Europe and creating 164,000 jobs. The Government should consider its view on the aviation industry and perhaps look at issues such as airport passenger duty (APD) in more detail. The Government should also consider the fact that by not applying VAT in the same way as the rest of Europe; aviation businesses, people and customers are being driven abroad.

What is your attitude towards your competitors?
This is a competitive industry but one that is also highly collaborative. For example, we are members of AirClub, a group of nine business jet operators across Europe that set industry standards across the continent. AirClub allows the customer to select the most convenient and cost effective travel arrangements through their nine European networks. At the end of the day our aim is to provide the very best service while making life easier for our customers.