Air charter covers a wide spectrum of travel ranging from executive business travel to cargo movement. A highly adaptive and responsive segment of the air travel industry we caught up with the Chairman of the Air Charter Association Mr. Kevin Ducksbury regarding how the ACA keeps their wings in the air and their feet on the ground.

WHO ARE THE AIR CHARTER ASSOCIATION?

The ACA is generally a trading association representing all sectors of air craft charter operators and brokers and associate members from companies actively involved in the industry. Providing services to the charter sector and striding to be leaders in self-regulation they promote the establishment and maintenance of good supply chain relationships. As such they are the go-to source for information and users of the services as an end user function.

“The way we do that,” Kevin explains, “Is by endorsing a set of professional standards and conduct for our members and to make sure that we are providing an ethical usage and a resource for key information relevant to members and industry. We also lobby on key issues and challenges while trading in sector.”

He goes on to explain that the ACA plays an important role in two other areas. One, in providing top level training for brokers; training that is of a consistent level of knowledge and professionalism. Secondly, they assist members if they are new companies, ensuring that all members adhere to a consistent level of what it means to be a professional broker

Pretty well known for their first class networking events that draw in the best people in the industry, enabling meeting and networking and during the Covid 19 outbreak and the resultant Lockdown they have been endeavouring to offer the same calibre online.

“Business has continued throughout the Lockdown,” he explains, “It has of course affected many members, but much of the charter industry has to do with the transportation of cargo, emergency services and the transport of essential workers.”

BEING ADAPTABLE

Kevin, who joined the board of the ACA in 2018 and was appointed to chairmen in 2020 just prior to the Lockdown, has been in the charter industry for thirty years. He worked as a charter broker for fifteen years both for commercial airlines and je operators and also spent time working in the various industry’s support businesses. His experience spans the whole sector while at the moment his core is in the aircraft leasing space.

Throughout his career he has seen a number of changes shape the aircraft industry, such as 9/11 which had a sudden impact on flights and an almost overnight change in security and procedures. However, currently Covid 19 has been wide ranging and hard hitting and the aviation industry is facing the challenge of being choked. While there is a general choking of travel across aviation, in the charter market there are still some opportunities.

“Large operators, mainline operators, are already severely challenged as they have large assets and liabilities and currently low demand,” he says, “Which is the opposite of every airline business plan which relies on traffic. To get out of it they’ll have to adapt to the new normal where the real challenge is going to be demand and perception.”

This has been seen recently with a lot of operators trying to get the confidence back into the traveller. There are the physical restrictions on who can travel there is also the perception. There is going to be a lot of consolidation and to a degree a lot of broad brush stroke changes – which according to Kevin some of the markets have been need of this.

2020 AND BEYOND

Of course, anyone in the industry is going to be interested about the main developments that will be shaping the industry for the remainder of this year and going into next. Kevin explains that the whole aviation sector has been hit and many charter operators have had reduced staff, demand is down to 80% and when the government scheme phases out there will be naturally be casualties.

“Charter flying is about business flying, providing fast and efficient business movement, some of which can’t be done over phone or video,” he says, “There is the need to drive economy and charter aviation plays a significant part in that. It is an efficient, safe and secure option for business traveller and expands beyond business and leisure. It is also safer during periods such as what the world has found itself in at the moment.”

Kevin explains that one of their members recently conducted a study that found that for a passenger on a regular flight there are 700 touch points for a passenger relying on a commercial flight and only 20 for private charter.

There are other developments taking place at the moment including a focus around Covid security. This includes tech testing, to allow pre clearances and making sure that their standards of testing are as high as possible to keep passengers safe.

“We are seeing a lot of members working on the strategy to get pre-approval for movement,” he says, “Our members are going above and beyond for safety and  looking to control the whole transport journey from home to destination.”

Meanwhile, operators are having a challenge to operate financially and will have to explore and take action on ever way to improve and become more efficient. Sustainable aircraft and sustainable operations for business aviation is often many years ahead of commercial. There is an escalation of development.

“Air charter can be an adhoc industry with few patterns,” Kevin explains, “So it’s not like large schedule airliners where you can predict passenger movement, it is instead  opportunistic by nature and so members are having to make broad, general updates to keep them ready.”

THE PEOPLE

Although there is no official published number, roughly a million people are employed in charter sector in Europe. All members have a broker qualification programme that they have to work through which allows them access to ACA’s training programmes to ensure the trading staff are at the same level of consistency, knowledge and professionalism.

Despite common belief, air charter is not just for the HNWI (high net worth individual) but also moves with repatriation work where they’ve been working with general public passengers and they move unscheduled cargo and the clientele can be anyone from travel agents to sports team and government authority.

It also is involved in saving lives as the air ambulance falls within that sector. In fact, many of their members are air ambulance operators. The support for natural disaster is often supported by the charter industry. This includes natural disaster relief and repatriation which is getting people back to safety.

FUTURE PROOFING

Even before Covid, as an industry they are always innovative. With continuous work and activity done on sustainability with operators always looking to save costs while maintaining safety.

NETWORKING

Networking events allow ACA to keep in touch with members and them with each other. Nowadays they also do the normal messaging, social and podcast (which has been on hold during covid) and Kevin explains they also give regular news and features involving memberships. Philosophy is to guide members and help members to remain ethical and professional, more importantly unlike many associations all of the board are actively involved in the market with their own businesses and are not paid.

NEW MEMBERS

For new members there is a little bit of a process and criteria to get through. Firstly, they have to be actively involved in business for minimum of 12 months, provide an application at core or associate member level. Employees will determine level of member and fee. Trade references need to be provided then it comes to the board. Quality is ensured by board reviewing membership enquiries.

“The standard of the industry is judged by the standards of applicants,” Kevin says, “And we are good at judging an applicant.”

Website: www.theaircharterassociation.aero