When aviation experts talk about growth and adaptation on a large, commercial scale, it can be difficult to see those changes affected quickly due to sheer fleet size or rigid budgets. However, their smaller counterparts are a terrific testing ground for seeing the benefits of new aviation technologies implemented in a timely manner. The arena of business and charter aviation is a fast-paced branch of the aviation world that has the nimbleness to employ the latest technologies and serve as a proof-of-concept for more ubiquitous adoption across the industry.
To learn more about how charter airlines and smaller airports are adapting to growing expectations of both passengers and operators, we spoke with Charley Benjamin, a scheduler for Chantilly Air at Manassas Regional Airport. In our discussion, Benjamin touched on the detail-oriented nature of charter and business travel and how entrants like Chantilly Air are flexing their strengths to compete with commercial providers.
Here’s what he had to say:
Connected Aviation Today (CAT) Editors: What are some of the challenges that small business aviation/airports are facing today?
Charley Benjamin: One of the biggest changes in aviation as of late is the demand for aircraft with greater fuel efficiency, and with greater fuel efficiency comes greater flight range. The industry now has many ultra long-range aircraft available, which are departing with massive fuel loads onboard and require extremely long takeoff rolls. I think many of the smaller airfields are immediately disqualified from working with these aircraft because they’re not able to provide the safe requirements for operations. This presents a huge challenge to win new traffic.
In 2012, Manassas Regional Airport (KHEF) completed a $4.6 million runway extension from the initial 5,700 feet to 6,200 feet, providing the opportunity for a greater deal of international and longer-range traffic. As it stands, Manassas Regional Airport is the busiest general aviation airport in Virginia and accounts for roughly 30 percent of the state’s $1.1 billion in economic activity.
CAT Editors: How do these charter airlines and small airports compete in today’s market?
Benjamin: I think the biggest draw for a charter service client is the extremely intimate level of attention to detail that airlines like Chantilly Air are able to provide. Many charter operators, and certainly no commercial carrier, will ever be able to provide a passenger with such an extremely tailored level of service. I think the way to stand out in the industry is to provide the absolute highest possible tier of customer service to the client and go above and beyond to anticipate their needs.
The charter industry as a whole, especially smaller airports, are able to provide the luxury of escaping long security lines that lead to wide-body aircraft full of noisy passengers. Not to mention the fact that we are also able to provide tailored schedules at the demand of the client, not based on scheduled service. This creates a great deal of time savings for our passengers. Smaller airports are also often easier to access from city centers which gives the opportunity to get closer to the final destination than most commercial airports.
CAT Editors: Tell us about the work you currently do for Chantilly Air/Manassas Regional Airport and how you’re adapting to passenger and operator expectations.
Benjamin: Well, the airspace in the Washington, DC area is extremely busy and the need for more fixed-base operators (FBOs) is always increasing to keep up with the large volumes of business aviation traffic in the region. So, in 2018, Chantilly Air announced the plans to build the newest FBO at Manassas Regional Airport with an expected 32,000 square feet of office and over 60,000 square feet of hangar space to be completed in 2020.
To keep pace with this growing need for FBOs in the region, we’ve employed ARINCDirect solutions such as a Flight Operations System (FOS) and rely on it to keep our entire operation running smoothly. It is the workhorse of our company and provides the heartbeat for how we operate.
We also use ARINC to coordinate our international trip services. International trip planning is extremely resource-intensive, with each country having their own set of regulations and permits. It’s great to have the integrations built directly into FOS for us to be able to arrange anything from sending APIS notifications to setting up international security. It really is a time saver in our already hectic industry.
CAT Editors: How do you see this small business aviation space evolving in the near future?
Benjamin: I think we are on the precipice of a great deal of change in the industry. Many advancements from drones and self-flying planes, to electric aircraft engines, to in-cabin automation, to new efforts in supersonic travel are all being developed with great enthusiasm and interest. I truly feel that it’s a very exciting time to be part of the aviation industry, especially business aviation, as smaller aircraft have the ability to embrace many of these advancements to a higher degree.
To stay updated on the latest trends and best practices in the aviation industry, subscribe to the Connected Aviation Today newsletter. If you’re interested in sharing your expert opinion with us, reach out to our team here.