Investing in a vision for VLM

Published: 08 May 2015

WW - 2015028 - Arthur Smith

Arthur White had the opportunity to lead a management buy-out at a small European airline subsidiary. He now plans to turn the soon-to-be Superjet 100 operator into a profitable and growing brand in its own right.

Arthur Smith - WW 20150428

How did your career in the aviation industry begin?

Like a lot of young lads, I was very interested in aircraft and always wanted to be a pilot. I was fortunate enough to go through pilot training and qualify as a commercial pilot by the age of 20. I’ve flown over 14,500h with a variety of airlines, and have also trained as an instructor and examiner. I then progressed to flight and safety management, where I gained a lot of experience in managing industry relationships. Then came the opportunity to invest in VLM Airlines. 

Tell us about your current role 

My role as chief executive and majority shareholder came about through a very unusual situation, as the airline was previously owned by Air France-KLM. 

When the parent group decided to sell CityJet, of which VLM had been a part, I saw a chance for a management buy-out and the opportunity to rebuild VLM Airlines into a successful mediumsized regional airline. Starting up what is effectively a new airline is far more inspiring than closing
one down.

What challenges does a small to medium-sized airline face within a consolidating market like Europe?

There are three functions or elements you have to focus on to build a successful business: cost control, revenue generation and staying liquid. A lot of the cost control was done before I bought the company. Revenue generation is key, and starting new scheduled services – while keeping
as much aircraft, crew, maintenance and insurance (ACMI) and charter presence as we can – means we are actively generating revenue. Also, starting from a position of not having significant debt means we can grow and expand without having to look for financial investment. 

Why did you select the Sukhoi SuperJet 100?

We selected the SSJ100 LR for its passenger comfort, flexibility in short-to medium-range destinations and low operating costs. We looked at a number of aircraft types in the 100-seat category and the SSJ100 LR won hands
down. It is a wide aircraft that can seat five abreast and has the capability for a full business class configuration.

What does your working week look like?

Horrendous is the word that comes to mind! It’s only been a few months since I bought the airline and it has been a transitional year. A standard week starts early on a Monday morning and generally runs until late on Friday afternoon, with the occasional call and email at the weekend.

I’m a strong believer in a chief executive being present at the company headquarters and making sure your presence is felt on a day-today basis. However, I do have to visit airports and suppliers,
which often results in one or two days out of the office each week.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

The creative element – it allows me to see that in the next 12-18 months, the company can be transformed from having been part of a large international air group to becoming a credible regional airline. The other thing I enjoy is the growing confidence of the people who work at VLM Airlines. They are starting to believe in the bright future I see for
the airline. 

What is your vision for VLM over the next five years?

I would like VLM Airlines to be highly profitable because, at the end of the day, that’s why we’re all in business. I also anticipate having a fleet that is a mix of jet and turboprop aircraft used across our three markets. Lastly, I would like to see growth in the number of aircraft in the fleet, with some 100-seat jets, along with a fleet of around 10 turboprops.

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