From launching a cargo business to bringing in new customers, working towards becoming a net zero company and expanding across Africa, Elit’Avia has a knack for finding opportunities within a challenging market.
From the COVID-19 pandemic to inflation, political instability, a war in Ukraine, supply chain issues, and talent shortages, lately, the world seems to have an overabundance of lemons.
For Elit’Avia, one of Europe’s largest mixed-fleet business aircraft operators, that’s meant making plenty of lemonade. “The last few years have been full of uncertainty,” says Elit’Avia co-owner and board member Nick Houseman. “Although there’s been plenty of challenges, we’ve also found a number of opportunities.”
For example, pre-COVID, the company was eyeing the Asian market, having gone so far as to establish an office in Singapore. However, when the pandemic all but closed this market down, Elit’Avia pivoted towards Africa – a market in which they’ve been operating aircraft in for over 10 years.
“When the pandemic essentially brought all commercial air service in Africa to a halt, people began looking for alternative ways to get around this huge continent,” explains Houseman. “Because of our experience in the market, we were able to leverage this opportunity rather quickly and now we really see Africa as being a growth market.”
The company also benefits from being headquartered and having an AOC in Malta, which is strategically located between Africa and Europe. “The connection between Africa and Europe is strong, and because we have experience in both markets, we’re able to look both north and south,” adds Houseman.
The business of cargo
This north-south connection is also what led the company into the cargo business. During the early days of the pandemic, Elit’Avia was using its fleet of business aircraft to deliver personal protective equipment, or PPE, to places like Africa. It was on one of these flights that Houseman had an ‘ah ha moment’.
“We had been doing a lot of cargo brokerage and, seeing a business jet full of PPE and other critical cargo, we thought, ‘maybe branching out into cargo could be a good thing’,” he recalls.
And branch out they did.
Today, cargo is one of Elit’Avia’s fastest growing business units – and one they’re very keen to expand. In fact, they’ve even added a Boeing 747 completely dedicated to cargo to their fleet.
“Whereas the average business jet may fly 30 to 35 hours per month, that same jet, when used for cargo purposes, can see up to 300 hours per month,” says Houseman. “That’s not only an incredible revenue stream, it’s also incredibly resilient to some of the market forces that could impact our private aviation business.”
No turning back
But this in no way means that Elit’Avia is now a cargo company – business aviation is still very much at its core. “We originally pivoted to cargo because we didn’t know what the pandemic would do to private aviation,” adds Houseman.
As it turned out, what it did was introduce a whole new clientele to the benefits of flying private. “Before COVID, the bulk of our fleet of 25 jets were used for business purposes, but now we’re seeing a lot of families and individuals flying for purely personal reasons,” notes Houseman.
Many of these new customers are high net worth individuals who, prior to the pandemic, typically flew business class. But between scheduled routes being shut down and a desire to stay safe and avoid crowded airports and aircraft, these passengers gravitated towards private aviation.
“For this group of users, the pandemic really brought home the benefits of private aviation and, even as things reopen, they won’t likely turn back,” adds Houseman. “In fact, many are seeing how these same benefits can apply to their businesses, meaning we’ll likely see a rebalancing between private and business use.”
Towards net zero
As that rebalance happens, Elit’Avia is committed to doing it more sustainably than ever. “It’s the cargo side that brought us to sustainability, where we are covered by the EU ETS compliance scheme for Europe and by CORSIA, the voluntary emissions scheme for international flying,” says Houseman.
Taking the lessons learned from this work and applying it to the business aviation side, Elit’Avia is now working to become a more sustainable company through and through. “Our ultimate goal is to be net zero, not only on the fleet side, but as a company,” adds Houseman.
Considering that this drive towards sustainability can be traced back to the company’s cargo operations, which were launched in response to the COVID crisis, it goes to show just how much lemonade can be squeezed out of a single lemon.
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