There has been a lot of talk and action to consolidate Business Aviation over the last 10 years. M&A Teams have worked hard to create larger groups that aim for two major goals:
1. Creating a fleet large enough to create synergies across that fleet, thus reducing empty legs; and
2. Reducing the overall cost of aircraft operations by increasing the group’s buying power
Yet, there seems to be a new breed of aircraft operators just starting out that exactly aim for the opposite of what the large consolidators offer:
Small Fleet & Personalised Service
These ‘boutique operators’ promise a highly personalised service to their clients. They expressly aim to not grow to a large fleet nor growing quickly so they can offer the best service possible to their clients.
And with the consolidators seemingly having lost some momentum in the quest to swallow up more operators and revising down profit forecasts, I believe this new breed of operators is on to something.
Yet, I also believe they need to focus on two major trends in the industry, in order to stand out and pull away from the flock:
In Business Aviation, we have been somewhat reluctant to embrace new technologies that could make our business more efficient. Technology is not something that takes away jobs but merely allows us to automate repetitive, costly tasks and focus on what is truly important in our everyday roles: speaking to our clients and making them happy.
I would argue that even the larger players in this industry still have not fully embraced the technology that is available to them. If a boutique operator decides to build their operations on a strong technology backbone, it can truly find its way to the very front of the industry.
Buying Power through Group Purchasing
While I have heard the phrase ‘our clients do not really care about what their flights cost’ on numerous occasions, this is a concept that is very hard to grasp for me and I believe this could not be further from the truth. Our clients are the best of the best in the business world and it is not in their nature to pay more for a service than they should. They want value for their money.
This is exactly why I believe Group Purchasing in Business Aviation will become a pillar for smaller boutique operators. It offers them the ability to combine a highly personalised service to their clients with competitive operating costs, catapulting them into to the very front of the value offering to clients.
An unstoppable combination
If these boutique operators can fully embrace a combination of personalised service, technology-driven, streamlined operations & great operating costs, they will become unstoppable.
Group Purchasing may still be in its infancies but judging from the trends we are seeing in the industry, it is certainly a concept that is here to stay as it supports the very core of the industry: Boutique Operators.
Post written by Irena Deville
Co-founder & CEO
Consolidation has taken hold of the business aviation industry over the last four to five years. Large entities such as Lux and Gama Aviation have been spearheading the movement by completing some of the most high-profile transactions, significantly growing the size of their fleet and operational footprint. But consolidation has materialised across regions, operator types and sizes.
To name just a few, and focusing on Europe only, we have witnessed transactions between Wijet and Blink, North 51 and Executive Aviation Services, Flying Group and Jet Management Europe, WaltAir and Hummingbird Aviation, FAI and FlyAlpha, and so on.
BACA’s 2015 Survey suggests that, during 2015, every second business aviation provider transacted an M&A opportunity, considered a specific opportunity, or took advice on M&A options.
So, why are operators choosing this path of consolidation?
For now, the European operator market remains hugely fragmented, with many small and very small operators active. The average European operator manages a fleet of fewer than three and a half aircraft and fewer than 20 operators manage fleets of more than 20 aircraft.
This extensive industry fragmentation stems from its early development. Operating entities were often founded by individuals from an operational background, focused on delivering the best service to a small number of end-users. Only some of these entities mastered the transition to a more business-focused approach to operations, gearing up for growth and operational scale and, following that, reaching critical mass.
At the same time, operators face an increasingly challenging market: management fees are declining and end-user-centric solutions (such as online marketplaces for charter flights) make available flight inventory increasingly transparent and, in turn, render the charter market even more competitive.
It is this highly fragmented, increasingly challenging market that has fostered the spread of consolidation. The consensus is that some level of industry consolidation is necessary for operator margins to finally improve.
But how exactly does operator scale contribute to improved margins?
1 Lower overhead costs per aircraft. Increasingly stringent safety and regulatory requirements, imposed by authorities and auditing companies, drive up operators’ overheads over time. Entities that operate a fleet commercially carry the significant and recurrent costs of an in-house AOC structure.
This cost is fixed to a large percentage, increasing only to some extent with a growing fleet. It is an easy conclusion to come to that the fewer aircraft a commercial operator manages, the more overhead cost it incurs per aircraft.
In the quest for improved margins, an operator therefore has an incentive to grow the fleet to achieve lower overhead costs on a per-aircraft basis.
2 Lower costs for operational input. Simply put, the larger an operator, the greater its power to procure the services it requires to operate its aircraft.
In a fragmented operator landscape, suppliers need to market to a large number of (smaller) operators, which is expensive and offers a small conversion rate. Suppliers are therefore keen to work with large(r) entities that offer the opportunity to meaningfully increase sales, while keeping sales efforts and administration at a minimum. Suppliers with a strategic outlook will also prefer to work with larger operators as they represent a more predictable, contracted source of revenue.
Suppliers can and will reduce their rates for services provided to larger Operators with an increase in sales volume associated with that client. A larger Operator can thus improve its margins by procuring at a lower price point as it grows.
3 Fewer empty legs operated. Currently, a third of all commercially-operated business aviation flights across European skies are empty, leaving the operators to bear the cost. Unsurprisingly, finding a solution to this expensive issue has become the holy grail of the industry.
Consolidation aims to create a network large enough to reduce empty legs to a minimum, or to reach critical mass. The larger an operator’s fleet and the larger its corresponding client network, the better its chances of reducing non-revenue generating flights.
That reduction will have a direct impact on the operator’s margin.
So, consolidation is undeniably happening. And it is likely to positively influence the industry, as it clearly offers the potential of improved margins.
At this point, however, we should ask if and how well operators can reconcile scaling up with offering the high-end, personalised services levels that end-users expect and deserve from them. How large is too large, when clients become yet another “cog in the wheel”?
There is plenty of space in the industry for consolidators operating alongside smaller entities that offer the highly personalised service that many clients want.
It may, however, be time for “boutique operators” to shake up “business as usual” by employing other ways to reduce costs and increase margins, carving a more defined niche for themselves in a transforming, highly competitive industry. One way of doing this could be to offer their clients a unique value proposition, which combines high-end, personalised services levels and a competitive cost base.
By Irena Deville, Co-Founder & CEO
(first published on Corporate Jet Investor: https://corporatejetinvestor.com/articles/consolidation-the-quest-to-improve-operator-margins-638/)