A short flight on DragonFly King Air G-MEGN
There’s nothing we love more at Corporate Jet Investor than being given the opportunity to fly in the aircraft that we love to write about. So when Howard Palser from Cardiff-based DragonFly offered us a flight in one of his company’s King Airs, we jumped at the chance.
Based at Cardiff International Airport, Dragonfly Executive Air Charter operates a pair of King Air 200s – 1981 build G-BVMA and 1996 build G-MEGN – and it is G-MEGN that greets us as we pull into Blackbushe Airport for our ride to DragonFly’s home base.
Meeting us today are Howard Palser, chief executive of Dragonfly and his wife who after brief introductions waste no time in introducing us to captain James Gardner and first officer, another James, Jamie Packer.
One of the reasons Palser contacted us to take this flight, was to perform a direct comparison between DragonFly’s King Air 200 and the Eclipse 500 that myself and Corporate Jet Investor’s deputy editor Alex Andrews had flown on a few months ago, with Bruce Dickinson, the non-executive chairman of Aeris Aviation – which acts Eclipse’s European sales agent – and of course, lead singer in Iron Maiden.
Getting on board the beautifully appointed G-MEGN King Air, it is easy to see why Howard would want us to make a comparison, with the unfolding steps in the door of the King Air, allowing us to actually step on board, rather than clamber on in a less-than-dignified way.
Our flight today will be short, but it is still an important one, as it allows us to directly compare the two aircraft over a similar course.
Comfortably sat on board the King Air, Palser begins to tell me the history of the company that he founded in 2004.
Palser, a solicitor by profession, often found himself flying his own private single engine aircraft from his Cardiff base to meetings across the country, with the flexibility and speed offered by the aircraft allowing him to fly between Cardiff and Norwich, onto Birmingham and back into Cardiff in time to enjoy an evening at home with his family.
Spotting a gap in the market, Palser soon found himself researching aircraft, with the aim of setting up a small charter company from his Cardiff hometown.
Cardiff, Palser explains, is the perfect base for a charter operator. Open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and with no slot restrictions, Cardiff Airport, in the south of Wales, can be reached from almost anywhere in the UK by air in less than 40 minutes. It is a position that Palser coverts, explaining that a DragonFly King Air can reach London’s Luton Airport in 30 minutes to pick up passengers and Farnborough Airport in a little over 35 minutes.
This flexibility, added into the 24/7 operation of the airport, makes Cardiff an ideal location for an aircraft base, especially as the King Air has low operating costs, which means low positioning costs when picking up up passengers at locations away from its home base.
As well as low operating costs, the King Air also has another advantage over jet aircraft that might normally be used on the same missions, and this is abundantly apparent a short way into the flight when breakfast is served.
Over breakfast we talk future plans and past successes. Although the DragonFly fleet currently includes two King Airs, Palser says the company could be on the lookout for a third.
All too soon we’re descending into Cardiff Airport. By my reckoning, the flight has taken just over 25 minutes, a few minutes longer than the Eclipse 500. That said, it should be noted that when flying on the Eclipse, we came from – and landed from – the east, whereas in the King Air we came from the east past the airport before turning around and landing from the west.
Taxiing into a quiet Cardiff Airport we park next to the second DragonFly King Air 200 G-BVMA, with the pair of King Airs making an impressive sight on the airport ramp.
Although almost identical inside and out, Palser explains that G-BVMA had its engines upgraded in 2012 by Hawker Beechcraft Chester.
The new PT6A-61 Blackawk engines have a larger, improved gas generator, so they run cooler and more efficiently providing increased power at altitude, with the upgrade improving the performance, climb rate and cruise speeds of the already impressive King Air.
After a quick tour of the DragonFly offices, the question I knew was coming did, of course, come up during tea: which did I prefer, the Eclipse 500 or the King Air 200?
This is not such an easy question to answer, as both aircraft have their plus points. It is true that the King Air was far more comfortable than the Eclipse, especially while getting into the aircraft, and later whilst enjoying breakfast.
But the real niggling doubt at the back of my mind is speed, which a key reason why people use business aircraft.
A quick comparison of max cruise speeds of both aircraft reveals that the Eclipse 500 has a cruise speed approximately 77 knots faster than the King Air.
With both aircraft limited to 250 knots under 10,000 ft, so over shorter distances, like the Blackbushe to Cardiff route, that difference is hardly noticeable.
What is noticeable however is the comfort level, and this is where the King Air trounces the Eclipse.
Flying on the King Air was a far more elegant experience. From the moment of stepping on board the aircraft felt more comfortable than the cramped Eclipse. There was also a lot more space for my luggage, and although it wasn’t used during the short flight, the addition of bathroom facilities on the aircraft are a real plus.
The Eclipse certainly has a role to play in modern business aviation, but if I was given the choice of flying on that or a King Air, I’d choose the king Air every time.