Exclusive: Graham Williamson launches Sonas Aviation in Ireland
Graham Williamson has left TAG Aviation to launch Sonas Aviation, a new Irish aircraft management company.
He was president of the aircraft management and charter division having joined TAG Aviation in 2004 to launch the company in the UK. He moved to TAG Aviation after launching low-cost carrier GO Airlines in India and has worked for a number of airlines.
“I have loved working at TAG but my real love is growing new start-ups, I was at Emirates when it only had three aircraft and have been part of launch teams for a number of different operators. When I joined TAG in the UK we were a team of 12 staff in a portacabin managing only three aircraft, within five years we had more than 40 aircraft under management. I want one last adventure before I retire,” says Williamson. “The beauty of a start-up is that I have a blank piece of paper and can use everything I have learnt in the last 40 years, to create a bespoke operator.”
Williamson has dual UK-Irish nationality and is moving to Ireland.
Sonas – which is Gaelic for happiness – will be based at Shannon Airport in the west of Ireland.
“Ireland is an aviation hub but it is definitely not a flag of convenience. The Civil Aviation Authority is one of the most-highly respected in the world and I, and all of the post holders, will be based in Ireland,” says Williamson. “It is easy for people to take safety and standards for granted but we are looking to work with people who realise it is the absolute priority.”
Although it is not the main reason for the launch, Williamson also believes that Ireland could benefit from uncertainty over the UK’s leaving the European Union.
“We are not expecting to see hundreds of aircraft to move over straight away, but Ireland is very well positioned – it has free circulation, 76 Tax Treaties, similar regulations and laws to the UK – so could be a popular choice for owners of UK-registered aircraft when they are involved in future transactions.”
He says that other European jurisdictions are already reaching capacity. The Irish government is keen to encourage business aviation and launched a new business jet registry in 2015. Although more than 700 commercial aircraft are registered in Ireland there is just one aircraft on the business jet registry and only a few business jet operators – including Westair Aviation and Air Link Airways.
Williamson stresses that he is not looking to grow Sonas Aviation into the biggest operator in Europe. “We genuinely do not want 50 aircraft. We want to be able to personalise our offering and have relationships with owners. We are also going to take our time,” he says. “We are not looking to add 10 aircraft in our first month.”
Sonas Aviation has already hired key safety and regulatory people to work with the Irish Civil Aviation Authority and hopes to receive its Aircraft Operator’s Certificate in 2019.
Williamson resigned from TAG Aviation in September and says that he hopes to work with them in the future.
“We cannot thank Graham enough for the dedication, passion, enthusiasm and motivation which he has brought to his role with TAG Aviation. He will be hugely missed by all the staff, Senior Management Team colleagues and fellow Board members,” said Daniel Christe, CEO of TAG Aviation Europe. “We will not forget Graham’s invaluable contribution and his inspired leadership and I would like to take this opportunity to wish him every success as his embarks upon an exciting new endeavour.”
Carlos Gomez, Chief Operating Officer for TAG Aviation UK, will replace Williamson as managing director.