New helicopters present more opportunities for Norwich-based charter airline

John Dewing, left, flight support operations manager, and Alex Durand, chief executive of SaxonAir,

John Dewing, left, flight support operations manager, and Alex Durand, chief executive of SaxonAir, who have a major new contract with an energy firm which will bring new helicopters to its fleet. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2018

A charter aircraft business servicing East Anglia's offshore industry is aiming its sights higher after a deal was agreed to bring top-of-the-range helicopters to its runway.

SaxonAir will start offering flights on the EC175 helicopter from its headquarters near Norwich Airport in July.

The aircraft was purchased by helicopter services company CHC, which has its Norfolk office at SaxonAir. It can seat 14 people and has a 'significantly' increased capacity for cargo compared with SaxonAir's current biggest rotary-blade aircraft.

One EC175, worth between £15m and £20m, has been leased so far with plans to increase the fleet in line with demand.

Chief executive Alex Durand said the contract was 'a good sign that people are committing to Norwich'.

The company has established links with the energy industry – one of its first contracts after starting up 10 years ago was for Shell, and Japanese energy firm Oranje Nassau has its UK base at SaxonAir's offices.

Petrofac and Spirit Energy, formerly Centrica, also charter flights for offshore personnel from the company, which overall operates between 12 and 14 offshore flights a day – below its peak of 20, but a significant increase from its industry downturn low of four.

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Head of operations John Dewing said SaxonAir has seen a 30% increase in the number of offshore passengers coming through its departure lounge in the past year – a 'gentle sign of confidence' in the industry.

'In the last three years the whole industry has gone through a slump. It has had to re-calibrate and look at how it does business. For us to be able to look towards the end of the year and see more coming is a very encouraging sign,' said Mr Dewing.

Mr Durand added: 'There are a lot of people based here who are travelling through the airport and we have a lot of complementary businesses.'

There are plans to develop SaxonAir as a 'one-stop shop' for the offshore industry. It has medical and training subsidiaries Examinair and Glennair on site, and has invested heavily in its meeting and conference facilities, which have been used by the East of England Energy Group.

The company, which employs 65 people, turned over £18m last year and expects this to increase to £20m for 2017/18. It has an aggressive expansion plan to grow the workforce to 110 and to increase turnover by 50% in the next three years.

Charter operations

The offshore industry makes up the majority of SaxonAir's business, but the other side of its operations – chartered flights – is also flying high.

Chief executive Alex Durand said its 12 charter aircraft are all in service on around 20 days each month.

Its charter fleet, predominantly used by business travellers, already contains the country's three newest AugustaWestland AW109 helicopters and will see some new additions this year including the long-haul Gulfstream G550.

Mr Dewing said there are also plans to offer a kind of 'park-and-ride' service for flyers – they will be able to store their own aircraft in Saxon Air's hangers and be transported by helicopter into destinations such as London, where storage costs at commercial airports are much higher. He added that there could be opportunities to exploit with its relative proximity to air travel hubs in Amsterdam and Paris.