12 December 2022, etc.venues Monument, London
Business Travel Show Europe, presented by The BTN
21 November, London Hilton Metropole
ON THE SOAPBOX: Mike Collett ” Chairman and chief executive Air Atlantique
Mike Collett epitomises general aviation (GA for short ” virtually everything in the flying world except for the military and the airline business. From microlights to executive jets and including ballooning and flying clubs). Mike is a large and genial Yorkshireman. In a somewhat muddled beginning he gained an RAF scholarship, read textiles at Leeds University and through the sponsorship of British United Airlines gained a commercial pilot”s licence at the then school at Perth. After various pilot jobs, including joy riding at Blackpool, he somehow finished up in Jersey in the late sixties, his base ever since. His creation, Air Atlantique, has prospered over the years (with the odd hiccup), operated scheduled services, owned Coventry Airport organising its fabulous air shows, created Atlantic Airlines (now independent ” see ON TOUR), and somehow collected the nearly 30 aircraft that today form the basis of the Air Atlantique Classic fleet. He certainly knows about general aviation.
Recently the BBGA (British Business and General Aviation Association) ” introduced last year when the old GAMTA (General Aviation Manufacturers and Traders Association) and BAUA (Business Aviation Users Association) joined to create the new and much stronger organisation ” has been arguing GA's cause in the JRT (Joint Review Team). It seems that the major airlines want GA to pay a much larger share of the CAA's costs. The airlines, the airports and it looks like even the CAA, have lost sight of the fact that GA runs through the veins of our aviation industry, and is a very important component of it. It makes a big, often indirect, contribution in a number of fields. It may not employ as many people as the airlines, or make, or spend, as much money as they do, but it is almost criminal to neglect it.
We in Britain used to appreciate the importance of GA. But in recent years there has been an increasing focus on airline operations by the airports and an increasingly narrow-minded attitude by the airlines, driven by the urge to make profits. New airport and airline management do not know much about GA: they just consider it "noise". Yet it helps everyone, and particularly the airlines, and should cost very little to regulate.
How many commercial pilots are trained from scratch by commercial schools (which are in any event really part of GA)? Very few. The vast majority have learnt to fly in flying clubs, where they learned what flying was all about. Their enthusiasm led them to choose to fly professionally. Without GA the airlines would have a different category of pilot flying their aircraft, and a much more expensive category, directly and indirectly.
The big airlines want GA "to pay its way". They want the cost of running the CAA to be apportioned in a manner that will result in their paying a very small amount less, whilst the GA community pay a huge amount more. This could spell the death-knell of GA as we know it, and if they win, it could turn out to be a pyrrhic victory.
There are some fatuous ideas about how GA gets a free ride. Usually absolute rubbish, as GA generally has far higher costs than a big airline. For a start it has VAT to consider: there is a VAT exemption above 8000 kg. Then it has duty on fuel. Avgas duty makes it the most expensive of fuels, costing four times or more as much as turbine fuel. Insurance rates are higher, maintenance costs are a lot higher. It is not rare to find the annual maintenance cost of a small twin to be in excess of ”20,000 a year for only 200 hours utilisation, with only one or two people on board.
But airlines are not the only culprits: Airport managers today seem to want to boot GA out of their airports. The charges are phenomenal. These people are really running monopoly, or near-monopoly, operations, yet they strive to attract the likes of Ryanair and easyJet, and offer them absurdly low airport charges, whist forcing GA to pay full whack and to have compulsory handling. A Cherokee landing at many British airports now pays more than a Boeing 737 in airport charges. I have recently had to pay in excess of ”100 to land (including compulsory handling) at Southampton, and ”60 (without compulsory handling) at Blackpool, and these have been for short stops in a 35 year-old Cessna 310.
Airports that used to be GA friendly, such as any medium to large airport near you, now don't really want GA. They are a nuisance. Yet generally GA does not incur them any incremental cost. In the USA GA can land free of charge at most airports, and in France the charges are minute. What is wrong with the British that makes us determined to maintain our reputation as "rip-off Britain"?
The third guilty party, and in a sense, the worst (because they should not have the profit motive to the same extent) is the CAA. There are some good people in the CAA, make no mistake. But as a body they can be very disappointing. They should see what is happening and take some steps to stop the deterioration. They should not let myopic airline and airport management destroy GA. Furthermore, they are patently too expensive and sophisticated to look after GA: they should outsource the job. UK GA could probably be overseen and regulated by six professionals and their support staff, based in a modular building in the middle of England. Why does it have to share a cost that has 99% arisen because of the needs of the airlines?
The CAA should point this out to the airlines, reminding them that GA is an important component of our industry, and should be allowed to flourish. They should not help the airlines and the airports price it out of business.
Chairman and chief executive ” The Air Atlantique Group
(Please note that on Monday 9 May Mike himself will be re-enacting the liberation landing on the beach at Jersey in an Air Atlantique Dragon Rapide ” HM The Queen will visit the island for the celebrations.)