Czech FBO spreads its wings

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ABS Jets, the Prague-based provider of FBO and handling services, raised CZK 450 million ($22 million) of fresh capital for future development in November through an issue of five-year bonds.

The move followed the company’s opening of a new 6,000sq metre hangar at Prague’s Ruzyne Airport in September to cope with growing demand from existing and new clients. The new facility triples ABS’s hangar capacity.

“The demand for our services reflects in the fact that 70% of capacity in our new Hangar N had been already sold before the off icial opening,” says Vladimir Petak, CEO of ABS Jets.

“Among other projects, we are now providing third-party handling services in Bratislava, Slovakia. A significant part of our fleet is based in Slovakia and we would like to add at least one hangar there.”

The current ABS fleet comprises 13 aircraft – six Embraer Legacy 600s, a Learjet 60XR, a Cessna Citation Bravo, several Gulfstreams and a new Phenom 300, delivered in the first week of 2012. In addition to these aircraft, the company manages aircraft for private domestic and international customers at Prague and Bratislava.

Having facilities in the two locations positions ABS perfectly to handle flights from the Gulf region, which can travel onwards to destinations throughout Europe as well as in Russia and the CIS countries – an area that has seen a noticeable increase in traffic. ABS has been an authorised sales representative for Embraer Executive Jets in the Czech and Slovak markets since 2007.

Commercial director Antonia Tomkova says: “Last year we launched a campaign to promote business aviation more intensively in the Czech and Slovak republics. The market is still pretty new and there is a need to explain how business aviation works and what the possibilities are in terms of aircraft purchase and management.

“We organised three demonstration days at Prague and Bratislava last year, where all Embraer’s executive jets were on static display,” she adds. “At the end of September, together with Phenom and Legacy aircraft, we also showed the Bombardier. It is important to give clients, their advisers and sometimes also their pilots a chance to decide on the right aircraft for their needs.”

Tomkova says: “The new planes are mostly purchased by high net worth individuals rather than corporates, who nowadays prefer charter flying instead of having their own jet.

“Financing has not become much easier, but we have found that only clients who are interested in heavy jets are having to considering this. Those opting for small or mid-sized aircraft do not usually require financing.”

Demand for charter services is growing slowly, but “still requires lots of work with companies, private clients, travel agencies and government, as well as the media, to explain the nature of business aviation,” Tomkova says. “There is still an educational job to do. Often we have to compare the costs of airline business class tickets with business jet travel to prove to clients that it is a rational economic travel choice.

“However, we can say that in recent years, more clients have started to use business jets for their travel. There is significant growth in the number of flights using VLJs and light jets especially. While the average flight used to be around 2.5 to three hours, last year we often saw business travellers making much shorter European flights and I expect a continuation of this trend.”

Confirming his ambitions beyond the Czech Republic and Slovakia, Petak says ABS is already running a line maintenance station in Kiev. “Sofia and Budapest are in our long-term strategic planning,” he concludes.