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Atlas Aviation Services: Making the world safe for non-scheduled air travellers

There is a world outside of Air Canada and WestJet; a world of non-scheduled flights where air travellers must arrange their own transportation.


June 6, 2008
By James Careless

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There is a world outside of Air Canada and WestJet; a world of non-scheduled flights where air travellers must arrange their own transportation. Even for those who own or lease their own aircraft, this is no mean feat; especially if they need to travel outside of North America and Europe. In regions such as the Middle East, Africa, Asia and South America, there are all kinds of arcane and even unfair regulations that can trip up unwary travellers – especially in Third World nations where fuel shortages, civil unrest, and corruption are daily facts of life.

To save travellers and their aircraft from these many perils, there’s Atlas Aviation Services. Headquartered in Richmond Hill, Ont. (just north of Toronto), with extra staff members posted overseas, AAS covers all the details associated with making international travel safe, secure, and as hassle-free as possible. “We provide global flight support for corporate, commercial, cargo, ambulance, diplomatic and military operations,” explains Shaen Worthington, owner of AAS. “Our customers include diplomats, heads-of-state, royalty, charter operators, cargo airlines, the U.S. military and air ambulances; all of whom count on us to smooth the way for them.”

AAS was started by Worthington and his partners three years ago. “We knew that companies such as ours existed in the Middle East to help air travellers from around the world, including North America,” Worthington says. “We decided to cut one step out of the process, by opening a business here that would serve those North American travellers using the contacts that we had collectively built up over the years.”

These contacts are wide-ranging. On the official side, they include airport managers, fuel and service providers, aviation regulators, immigration officers, and all the many other professions that deal with aircraft on the ground. On the unofficial side, these contacts can include locals who know how to push paperwork through and, when necessary, how to convince corrupt persons of power to look favourably upon AAS clients, through whatever means are legally reasonable.

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“We’ve dealt with situations where someone has landed in Lagos, Nigeria, refueled, and been held at the airport because the fuel supplier is now demanding payment in cash to the tune of $25,000,” says Worthington. “Thanks to our resources and contacts, we have both the credit facilities to help get this bill paid so that the aircraft can take off, and the people on the ground who can help get the problem resolved quickly.” He adds that, “we work hard to keep our contacts useful in the regions we serve, including rewarding them for their efforts, if need be.”

The fact that AAS people sometimes have to deal with less-than-honourable characters is not unique; anyone who does business in the Third World knows this to be a fact of life. Still, it is reassuring to AAS clients that this company can get them out of sticky situations, and even prevent them from occurring in the first place.

The word ‘services’ in Atlas Aviation Services’ name neatly captures what this company is all about. The company’s portfolio starts with charters: Thanks to its 2,000-plus partners worldwide, AAS is able to charter turboprops, jets and helicopters for corporate, commercial, cargo, military transport and air ambulance services. This last point is where the company’s contacts can pay off in life-or-death
situations. “If someone gets sick in remote Africa and needs to be medevaced out, it usually takes four days to get the paperwork through,” Worthington says. “We can typically get it done in 24 hours, getting them to first-class medical care sooner.”

This said, charters are only a small part of the business. Arranging permits, ground handling, fueling, flight planning and ground transportation are the lion’s share of what AAS does for its clients.

‘Permits’ refers to a range of permissions that must be obtained to fly legally worldwide. They include overflight, landing and takeoff permits; prior permission numbers and slots, and even diplomatic clearances. AAS prides itself in being to obtain such permits within 12-24 hours, thanks to its contacts on the ground. They are the kind needed to clear an air ambulance from Africa in a day’s time.

‘Ground handling’ is a multifaceted term. It covers loading and unloading cargo, of course, but also covers aircraft handling and security, customs and immigration clearances, crew and passenger visa assistance, hotels and transportation to and from the airport, in-flight catering, and even ambulances when required. “Because of our long-standing liaisons, we can provide ground handling services on credit worldwide; including at Middle Eastern, African, South American and Asian destinations,” Worthington says. “In addition, ground handling services can also be provided on credit in remote locations.”

‘Fuel’ is the most critical element for any aircraft, and something that can be leveraged by unscrupulous vendors looking for high profits, instant cash, or both. Mindful of this, AAS has spent a lot of time developing trusted fuel suppliers around the world. “Our fuel department has negotiated exclusive prices in over 2,000 locations worldwide,” Worthington notes. “We are able to provide our clients with Jet A fuel or avgas at competitive rates, and with a credit facility upon approval.” AAS provides fuel price quotations on a 24/7 basis to clients by phone or e-mail.   

‘Flight Planning’ covers all the details needed to fly in and out of any location. AAS has its own staff of flight planners. They devise plans for clients that cover aspects such as safe flight routes, fuel requirements, aircraft weights, payloads and flight plan filing. These plans are computer-based, and come with weather packages, NOTAM alerts and trip kits/charts.

Finally, AAS ‘Transport’ services cover ground transportation for those who intend to do more than stay at a hotel before departing. The company can arrange limousines, minivans, SUVs and armoured vehicles, for moving around safely in dangerous areas of the world.

For Worthington and his staff, working at AAS is not your regular job. Every day, they find themselves dealing with all kinds of strange travel challenges, often using international telephone circuits that are far from adequate. “Communications are often our biggest headache,” he sighs. “It can be really hard to get in touch with places like Togo when the phone lines are jammed. Thank God for satellite phones!”

This said, it is precisely the novelty and challenge of his job that keeps Worthington happy to come to work. “Every day there’s something different; every day there’s a new chapter, and it’s not the same as the day before,” he says. “It really keeps you on your toes!”

For AAS clients, such enthusiasm is a godsend, because there are many, many hurdles that must be cleared to fly safely in the Middle East, Africa, Asia and South America. “We are here to help them get to and from where they need to go safely, quickly, and as comfortably as possible,” Worthington concludes. “It can be a dangerous world out there, which is why we cover an entire range of flight services from A to Z.”