FAI rent-a-jet: A very different operator


FAI Rent-A-Jet Learjet 60

We all know that running an aircraft operator in Europe is still very tough. But there are some bright spots on the continent. One of these is Germany’s FAI rent-a-jet.

Based at Nuremburg Airport in Germany, it has just announced sales of 73.5 million in 2014, up 10 per cent from 2013. Most importantly, it made a profit of 8.1 million ($8.5 million today or $11.1 million in 2014) – up 30 per cent from the year before. This is during another tough year in Europe.

FAI is very different to most operators. Although it offers third party management, maintenance and runs an FBO, the bulk of its business is supplying flights to the world’s largest NGO (you can guess it) and providing long-haul medical evacuation flights. They are two very different businesses. The seven all white jets that are used for NGO flights have a relatively low utilisation, while the air ambulance aircraft typically fly for 1,500 charter hours a year.

“We had to find a niche,” says Siegfried Axtmann, FAI’s chairman and founder. “At the moment it is very hard to make a profit from VIP aircraft management or charter. Fortunately we chose a niche with high barriers to entry.”

The operator owns 14 jets, leases four from a financial institution and manages a few others for local owners. Its fleet consists three Global Express aircraft, four Challenger 604s, seven Learjet 60s and 60XRs, four Learjet 55s, one Learjet 40XR and one Learjet 35A (it is Europe’s largest Learjet operator).

Axtmann targets long haul flights – particularly West Africa and the Middle East to Europe and the US. “We have more aircraft each year in Australia than Palma de Majorca,” says Axtmann. It employs freelance doctors and nurses – which is best industry practice – who cost a similar amount to captains and flight attendants.

He is also not worried about new competitors. “NGO and insurance company audits are tough and they won’t even look at you if you have not been operating for five years,” he says. To compete, Axtmann says operators need to own their fleet and in-house maintenance.

Although it offers traditional charter, Axtmann is not optimistic that this market will pick up. “In Europe there is little demand and lots of supply. Anyone can open an AOC tomorrow, get a brand new aircraft and brokers will work with them. It makes no difference if you have been going for five minutes or 25 years,” says Axtmann, who also stresses that he has no interest in collecting AOCs from different countries. “Fortunately in our niche you get rewarded for experience.”