Europe’s largest Citation Mustang operator, GlobeAir of Austria, is adding another six to bring its fleet to 20 of Cessna’s very light jets.

GlobeAir is showing that the niche market for very light jets may be growing. Last year the company posted a profit of EUR2.3 million on revenues of EUR17.5 million, and the number of flights operated rose from 5,100 to 6,000.

“Our charter sales rose 20%,” says Founder and CEO Bernhard Fragner. “At the moment I think our product is at the right place at the right time.” Overall, he notes, very light jet activity in Europe is 22% up year-on-year, whereas most other sectors are flat or around 2% down.

Fragner says Europe is struggling economically, except for the UK and Germany, and that a lot of his customers previously used mid-size cabin aircraft such as the Citation XL and XLS to fly just one or two people.

“They survived the 2008 financial crash through streamlining their own companies, cutting costs and giving better value,” he explains. “Basically, in 1.5 hours and with just one or two passengers they can get to most places in Europe and don’t need to fly in an XLS,” which according to Fragner is around 30% more expensive than a very light jet. “Sometimes we fly four passengers aboard our Mustangs, but our average is 1.4 passengers per flight... so with our niche I believe we can continue to grow.

“What helps us significantly is our fleet size, in that we can guarantee a flight, whereas an operator with only two to three aircraft cannot. Given my fleet size I can always find a solution.”

So is the term ‘Air Taxi’ dead? “We learned in Europe that this business is still discreet, and that people are not willing to share the cabin – we tried the cabin-sharing model and found it doesn’t work in Europe,” he says.

Fragner believes that the great differentiator between his operation and others is its ‘can do’ attitude. “I think from day one we focused on the customer even if it cost us money to put things right.”

The key to the success of Globe Air is basing the aircraft where the market is, and the most stable market at the moment is London, so its aircraft are distributed among that city’s airports, of which the busiest are Luton and Biggin Hill. Across the Channel, Paris-Le Bourget, Geneva and Nice are next busiest. “We have aircraft permanently based at those airports,” Fragner says.

The six new aircraft will be spread across the network to meet growing demand in the London area and in Zurich, while Munich will also have a permanently based aircraft.

Fragner’s advice is to question every expense. “A simple thing that we questioned was why should a GBP100 landing/handling fee cost GBP110 every time we used the same airport? We found the handling agent was charging a GBP10 administration fee each time, as he had to forward the fees to the airport authority. So we opened an account directly with the airport and now pay monthly rather than per-flight.”

Market development is still a key to continuing growth. “Our industry is really great at marketing itself within the industry, but we have to market ourselves better and address the potential customer base directly,” says Fragner, who tries to spend two days per week talking to new potential customers, and every week he finds one or two that have never heard of business aviation.

“These are millionaires and entrepreneurs, very successful people, and they are the last to learn how they can save more time efficiently. Their perception is that business aviation is just for the top celebrities, that using Gulfstreams and the like costs hundreds of thousands of dollars per flight. We offer them a 50% discount on their first flight, then once you have them at the aircraft they come again.”