Catering to presidents and pets
Published: 16 Sep 2015
Charter sales executive with Acropolis Aviation, Andy West has the aviation industry in his blood, moving from his first job at the Farnborough air show to his current post with the VVIP operator where he looks after high-end clients.
How did you get into aviation?
It has always been in my blood, with most of my family working in aircraft engineering or flight operations. My father was an aircraft engineer for 30 years with Cathay Pacific in Europe and Hong Kong before training on the Bombardier fleet with TAG Aviation, and my cousin is a flight dispatcher for Japan Airlines.
My first aviation job after college was at the 2008 Farnborough air show working with TAG Farnborough airport on the VIP side. Once the air show ended, I moved to Heathrow airport for three years, working at the Royal Suite co-ordinating royal and diplomatic movements, handling anything from a Cessna Citation Excel to a government delegation fleet of Boeing 747-400s.
The craziest period was during the 2009 G20 summit in the UK. I handled four Boeing 747-400s, a 757, an MD-11, five Airbus A319s and an Embraer Lineage 1000, all in 3h. Then I was fortunate enough to get back to Farnborough and started with VIP charter airline Acropolis in 2011, first in flight operations and then onto charter sales.
What is your current role?
I manage all aspects of charter flights from the sale to trip scheduling, flight watch and client post-flight follow-up. I am the central point of information and connect the client to the operation, managing the flow of information across departments, which is crucial for a successful flight.
We fly the ACJ319 so we mainly handle long-haul flights – it can be a private party for 19 guests, a financial roadshow, or a head of state or government visit. I also plan and attend company marketing events, which are a lot of fun.
Our aircraft have been shown at all the major air shows and next on our agenda is the Dubai air show and NBAA in Las Vegas.
Tell us about the market sector you are serving – what do customers demand?
We serve different clientele, including private family use, governments and corporate users. While a proportion of the market is consolidating or expanding fleet sizes by acquisition, the ACJ/BBJ market is very niche and at Acropolis we pride ourselves on a tailored approach to that small market.
There is a lot of consolidation in Europe currently, which can be confusing for aircraft owners who find themselves dealing with a whole new set of people. As we focus on the one aircraft, we guarantee clients an accurate response to enquiries, a personalised on-board service and a flexible approach. This helps us deliver the ultimate experience on a large-cabin aircraft.
What is a typical working week?
Whether it be through a charter broker, where 95% of our business comes from, or a direct client, once we have the sale, I need to ensure we deliver on the client’s expectations. I need to guarantee a memorable flight, so my priority is to remain attentive to the client’s needs and deliver a memorable on-board experience. For example, a recent client was concerned about their dogs flying, so I arranged for astroturf in a section of the cabin.
Acropolis has just launched the new ACJ320neo – how are you prepared for that?
We had a significant presence at the European Business Aviation Convention and Exhibition in May, when Acropolis confirmed it would be the first customer for the new ACJ320neo.
Now we have a busy period determining how the next aircraft will look. Our goal is to announce the cabin designer at NBAA. Our open-plan Alberto Pinto cabin has proved popular and we need to evolve that design to stay market leader.
The new aircraft will have 15% more cabin space, so we need to look at what works well and what we could introduce. From a technical view, the commonality our ACJ319 shares with the future ACJ320neo helps mitigate risks when operating a new type.