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What ended the use of piston twins for charter (AOC) work?

When I was doing my PPL (2000/2001) the school had a Seneca on a charter AOC. That business seems to have virtually died out. Some people blamed JAR-OPS but they arrived c. 1999. What exactly brought this about? I don’t see any obvious change in the economics, given that there used to be people willing to pay for the flight.

Administrator
Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom

For sure the reliability issue of singles didn’t disappear since 2001.

I would say (not a specialist) :

  • fuel cost : don’t know avgas price in 2001 but the barrel was worth about 25-30 $ so the direct costs increased for sure
  • twins quickly get their MTOW above 2000kg and get Eurocontrol charges. I don’t know when these charges were introduced.
  • maybe the appeal of jets and the myth of pocket jets for everyone got classic twins outdated. The Mustang took market shares for example.

To make it short, I would say they got stuck between the high-end singles (Cirrus SR-series mainly) and light jets. Those light jets now eaten by SETs.

When I was doing my PPL (2000/2001) the school had a Seneca on a charter AOC. That business seems to have virtually died out. Some people blamed JAR-OPS but they arrived c. 1999. What exactly brought this about…

Many factors, but JAR-OPS played an important role. Together with a partner I ran such an outfit throughout the 1990ies. We both did it beside other jobs because it never generated enough income to be able to live from it. At our peak (ca. 1996-1998) we had five aircraft on our AOC (C421 and C404) and one which we managed for a private owner (C340). There was a lot of competition in that market, not only from other piston twins but mainly coroprate turboprops (Conquest, Cheyenne, KingAir) which did illegal/semilegal/greyzone charters for dumping prices because all the basic costs were covered by the owning company so they could fly for the cost of fuel and crew and a little extra margin. We on the other hand needed to recover all costs from the hourly charter prices. The market prices for piston twins allowed no more than maybe 30 Euros (which was not yet invented then) per hour as profit margin. And most of that was eaten up by unexpected maintenance, ADs that needed to be complied with, mandatory avionics upgrades (we went from 720 to 760 channels during that period and “FM immunity” made lots of NAV receivers obsolete), AOG events which required us to subcharter someone else to take the passengers home. The insolvency of one of the owners who had his plane on our AOC cost us 50.000 German Marks in unpaid fuel bills (all the fuel needed to,be purchased through the AOC to get it without taxes). That was more than the profit of a good year.

The aging aircraft required ever more and ever more expensive maintenance, passengers hated small piston aircraft then as much as they do now and were drawn more and more towards the KingAirs and the CitationJets which started to appear in that decade and which, thruogh their greater speed, were not much more expensive over the same distance.

The final nail in the coffin (for us) was definitely JAR-OPS. Running a barely profitable outfit is not fun in the first place. Having do,to all the office work (and cleaning the aircraft and buying catering supplies and contacting customers and everything else) at night and during weekends did not increase the joy either. And the JAR-OPS would have brought about even more office work, rewriting all the manuals, doing quality management (we would have had to pay someone to do that as neither of us had any spare capacity for that), hold annual ground trainings for all pilots, etc. Running such a company was not much fun in the first place (much less than we had expected when we started the business) but those new regulations would have taken the little remaining fun away.

EDDS - Stuttgart

what_next wrote:

Running such a company was not much fun in the first place (much less than we had expected when we started the business) but those new regulations would have taken the little remaining fun away.

Hmm. I would imagine it was more like this :



Going back to the early 90’s I worked at two schools that used to offer pleasure flights (A to A AOC). The owners of both schools claimed that it was the regulation that came in at the end of the decade that killed it off.

It is an interesting question. A client of mine runs an AOC operation and this year has never been so busy – it is truly booming. It is all European, nothing long haul, but demand from private and corporate. They did run a twin piston for a short while but it was neither economic or popular. The speeds and weather topping capability of the rest of the fleet have too many attractions and, with sufficient use, the capital deployed and the depreciation becomes less significant, especially as capital is so cheap. The lack of Avgas at so many European destinations is also a factor.

What impact will SET have in this market sector?

Bathman wrote:

What impact will SET have in this market sector?

Around here this “market sector” has been basically nonexistent since 10 years (no commercially operated piston twins left within 100NM from where I am based, apart from some involved in aerial work – hail prevention). Myself I quit flying commercially on MEPs 10 years ago also, the last years it was mainly express cargo where no spoilt passengers would complain about aircraft size and “those propellers”. And because of the now severely aged fleet (the youngest C421, C404 or Navajos – below that size they are pretty useless for commercial operations anyway – are over 30 years old and on average over 40!) and all the shortcomings of this aircraft category I swore to myself that I will never fly commercially on one of those ever again.

So the SET would have to re-invent the low-end air taxi/charter segment starting from almost zero. In my part of the world I give it exactly zero chance of achieving that. Even twin turboprops are now confined to niche markets (short field, 24 hour operations which is not possible with jets here due to noise regulations) and have a hard time competing against light jets which are cheaper for every flight which exceeds about one hour flying time. And even light jets are not really popular among passengers. Ours complain all the time about “small size” and “uncomfortable cabin” in the CitationJets and the Bravos/Encore I fly. The charter market where a little profit can be made from happy customers which will keep returning starts with the Citation Excel and similar sized competitors. Below that it will be rather corporate or privately owned planes I guess.
But maybe that’s all different in other parts of Europe or The World.

EDDS - Stuttgart

Isnt there still a “problem” with their use in some countries in Europe for air taxi?

What I don’t get, as I wrote above, is why the market should have disappeared say 10 years ago. Cheap airlines have been around for a lot longer than 10 years. I used to fly to Frankfurt in 1985 for £50, in a 737. So people would have disliked propellers even 20-30 years ago.

I reckon a lot of flying schools operated one plane on an AOC so they could get duty free avgas across the board

Regarding public transport in SETs, we have a thread here. I reckon it will arrive “slowly”

Administrator
Shoreham EGKA, United Kingdom
13 Posts
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