Stuart Mulholland, managing director of UK charter operator Zenith Aviation, planned an accountancy career, but this was ditched in favour of a job at the controls of commercial aircraft, before moving into private aviation.
Tell us about your career so far
On leaving university, my job was in accountancy but I realised a career as a pilot was a lot more appealing. So I made the move into aviation, joined an airline and spent nearly 20 years flying commercially before ‘retiring’ into my present position. Who knows what might happen next; it is aviation after all.
My best flying experience was at the controls of a Bombardier Learjet 45 business jet. It’s a great aircraft to fly and goes just far enough to give you the feeling you are somewhere nice without the tedium of long-haul and night flights.
How is the European business aircraft charter market faring?
If our experience of the charter market is anything to go by, I would have to say it is faring well; our 2016 activity is just short of three times that at the same point in 2015. Other indications are positive, aircraft seem to be transacting more quickly, the managed aircraft fleet is increasing and maintenance activity is noticeably higher.
How do you see this sector evolving over the next decade?
Hopefully what we are seeing is the beginning of a period of sustained growth. World events and economic indicators tend to support the case for a strengthening business aviation sector. I am not sure what effect, if any, a vote to exit the EU might have on the UK business, but do think that in any event, the biggest opportunities lie in the strengthening economies in the rest of the world.
Tell us about your typical week
No two weeks are the same but Zenith is now largely self-sustaining and the team is excellent so my focus is primarily on developing the business and looking at new areas of opportunity. That said, contracts, budgets and a continual round of meetings are never far from the agenda. An hour or so of quiet contemplation at forty-odd thousand feet and a few nights down route does from time to time have huge appeal!
What do you find most challenging about your role?
Balancing the desire to see the business grow quickly with the regulatory framework we work within and the need to retain oversight of what we have built. I feel a bit like the relay runner that has safely grasped the baton, but with the knowledge that it is all over if he drops it.
“I am not sure what effect, if any, a vote to exit the EU might have on the UK business”
What are the most enjoyable aspects of your job?
I used to say it was giving people the opportunity to develop and seeing them grow, as individuals, and as valuable members of a very close-knit team. Now it is probably seeing the business develop, which is what gives rise to the opportunities.
We have recently upgraded our aircraft operator’s certification to the worldwide category, which has created four new positions in our in-house operations team with further recruitment on the cards.
What are Zenith’s plans for the rest of 2016?
So far this year we have seen a huge increase in activity across all areas of the business, so more of the same please.
We are also pursuing new areas of opportunity that, if successful, will see us spread geographically and diversify our activities. We have just entered into a very exciting collaboration with a Dubai-based start-up operation called Aviatrans Privée. Aviatrans is a well established operator in the Middle East, specialising in aircraft leasing but new to business aviation.
Zenith is offering it’s support in helping to establish this exciting new brand. Aviatrans Privée hopes to develop not only in the Middle East but further afield with Singapore and Indonesia potential markets. I would not rule out being involved with much larger aircraft, and even helicopters. That said, airliners I understand; helicopters might be a little too different for my liking.
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