Fast Five: Germany's Private Aviation Rebound
Laurent Gauthier is sole owner and CEO of European Air Service Group (EASG), a holding company with a half-dozen businesses servicing general aviation aircraft in Germany. He supports one out of every seven private aircraft based in the country and offers “one stop shop” capability. This means certain models of aircraft can obtain paint, interior, avionics, engine and winglet services at a single airport. He has not had to close any businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic.
How is your business with private jets, turboprops and piston aircraft holding up during the pandemic and what is the outlook for the rest of the year?
During the pandemic, there are two groups of people with private aircraft in Germany. One has enough money and they are using the time to work on their aircraft because they are flying less often. And the other group fighting the pandemic didn’t have the money to spend on aircraft. People who haven’t flown for 15 months would love to fly again. So, I believe that there will be a kind of a boom after the crisis—which is not over yet.
What did you do when the charter businesses you supported heavily at Friedrichshafen stopped flying?
This was a big transformation. We had to refocus in a very short period of time. For 20 years our charter business was increasing at Friedrichshafen. Then in the pandemic, charter flying went way down. This is because there are 30 countries in Europe and when you fly to one as a passenger you have to quarantine for a week. This forced some charter operators out of business. In order to compensate, we moved some of our half-year-long backlog near Hannover to Friedrichshafen to cover the transition period. Then we were overwhelmed by the demand from new customers when they realized we are doing private aircraft avionics upgrades in southern Germany. New customers came in from Switzerland and France. I believe by the end of the year we will have more business at Friedrichshafen than before the pandemic.
The general aviation show in Friedrichshafen set for July was recently cancelled. How will this affect your business?
This is the largest European general aviation fly-in: Aero Expo, at Friedrichshafen, which is about 10% the size of Oshkosh. It has been cancelled for the second year in a row. Not only will we be missing the aviation community at our home turf in Friedrichshafen, but this will impact our overall business. Aero Expo, like other big shows, sets the focus, generates attention and spurs demand for aviation gear. We usually generate an order book for up to six months of business over four days. We will have to look for other ways to communicate with customers via social media and other digital techniques that are now more important than ever.
Your private pilot training business increased during the pandemic at Frankfurt with Cirrus, Aquila composite and Cessna aircraft. How did that happen?
People who want to become private pilots often have the time and no money or the money and no time. During the pandemic, we found more people have both the time and the money lining up together. Many who wanted to become pilots saw their opportunity. While working at home, they could do the theory work by webinar and later, when restrictions eased, they could go fly with a Covid test and a mask to get their practical training. This is a very good thing.
You are taking advantage of an apprentice program in Germany to hire new people for your service operations?
Yes, we have a special program in Germany that is independent of aviation. It’s a training program for young people aged 16 to 18 with practical training on the job. So, we’re using this platform to offer young people the opportunity to become an aircraft mechanic or to work as an aircraft electrical expert or technician. We have around 16 young people getting their licenses or their qualification (out of a total EASG workforce of 150) and the program takes about three years. We can only take so many of these trainees at one time. However, if I had already trained and qualified technicians available to hire I could employ 10 of them tomorrow.