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Composing new music in the west

There’s a new player in the charter business in western Canada that is seeking to create a memorable performance with business and leisure travelers alike


January 10, 2011
By Stacy Bradshaw


Topics

There’s a new player in the charter business in western Canada that is seeking to create a memorable performance with business and leisure travelers alike.

composing 1  
 Falcon 50 EX in Opus Aviation hangar at Opus launch event.
PHOTO: Randal Kurt Photography (c) 2010


 

Owned by construction firm The Ledcor Group of Companies, Opus Aviation launched its cost-effective charter business Sept. 1 flying out of Vancouver and Edmonton. Opus owns and operates a small, versatile fleet of efficient private jets ideally suited for Alberta and B.C. travellers: a Dassault Falcon 50 EX (capable of intercontinental flights of up to nine passengers); a Gulfstream G100 (seats eight); and two Cessna Citation Mustangs (seats four).
 
And while some corporations in western Canada – particularly in the resource sector – spend millions of dollars (and waste precious time) on commercial business travel each year, Opus maintains it has created a better solution: a cost-effective charter connecting Vancouver and Edmonton to Canadian, U.S. or international destinations. To wit: for roughly $2,000 per hour, corporations or individuals can charter a Cessna Citation Mustang almost anywhere there’s an airstrip. It’s a price point that’s significantly less than it costs to charter other, more expensive options, says Darryl Saunders, Opus director of sales and marketing.

“With Opus, business or leisure travellers can get a pressurized, quiet jet aircraft with relatively low operating costs when compared to other jet aircraft. And if you don’t mind a fuel stop, you’re easily 1,500 to 2,000 miles no problem . . . when you see what this aircraft can do [the Opus’ workhorse, the Mustang], and when you compare it with the next step up, you’re spending $3,000 or $4,000 an hour. And really, the average business jet trip is two to four people. So, I think it will change the way people think about chartering a jet.”

While a significant part of the Opus business plan is aimed at the corporate business travel market, the firm is also targetting the leisure side for people seeking an alternative to commercial business class or first-class travel. Opus has also partnered with Burnaby’s Jubilee Travel Ltd. to create high-end travel packages to appeal to families flying to Disneyland or golfers flying to various transborder hot spots for that once-in-a-lifetime trip experience.

“The nice thing is we have an airplane that matches each mission profile,” says Saunders. “You’ve got the Mustangs for the short hops under 1,000 miles, the Gulfstream 100, which slots in nicely from anywhere in North America, and then you’ve got the Falcon which goes non-stop over the ocean wherever you want to go . . . so it’s a nice matrix of equipment.”

Opus is not the first foray into the aviation business for The Ledcor Group. The company has significant corporate travel experience having utilized a Dassault Falcon for more than 10 years. It has been primarily used to transport executives to construction projects all of over North America and Hawaii. The Ledcor Group also own Summit Air, which provides cargo and charter service in the Canada’s far north. Summit, based in Yellowknife, has used the Dornier 228 and Skyvan to serve clients in remote locations for more than 20 years. There’s also a strong commitment to a green approach and the environment: the entire fleet is carbon neutral.

“Ledcor has had a phenomenal reputation for integrity, safety and commitment,” says Saunders, “and Opus is a nice complement [to Summit Air]. Ledcor has seen huge returns on using corporate aircraft in terms of productivity, and this is a natural extension of where to take the business.”

A question of timing
Starting a charter business in a challenging economic climate may sound like a risky proposition, but to Ledcor, the decision made perfect sense – especially since so many firms are considering streamlining operations and cutting travel costs. For resource-based companies moving personnel around from city to city – or those transporting executives to transborder locations – choosing an affordable charter with very accessible aircraft made perfect sense.

“Aviation is always a risky enterprise from an investment perspective,” says Saunders, “but companies like Ledcor recognize the value a business jet and corporate travel can provide. And they have a vested interest in the charter side of it [with Summit]. So, there is less risk from a company perspective for a wholly-owned subsidiary . . . Introducing a new class of service, that’s risky as well, but it’s an education and a challenge in terms of getting people up to speed. The economy is turning on the right side – so the timing is also good.”

The premise of Opus Aviation was to utilize the very light jet (VLJ) category – the perfect tool for getting people into smaller airstrips. When doing comparisons on a per seat/mile cost effectiveness, it was determined VLJ aircraft offer prices not much higher than typical, airline business-class tickets.

One of the early fleet contenders was the Eclipse VLJ aircraft. However, when Eclipse Aviation filed for bankruptcy in 2009, a new workhorse gained top billing – the Cessna Citation Mustang. With its sleek contours and high-end design, the Mustang looks the part of a high-end business jet – yet it’s often seen as an entry-level aircraft because of its size and price (approximately $3 million). One of its strengths, is it’s able to get into many shorter strips where a larger business/corporate jet might be hard-pressed to land. The Mustang needs just 3,000 ft., making it accessible to countless airstrips across North America.

“The Mustang is cost-effective and extremely efficient, making it ideal for short-haul flights and for landing on airstrips that are inaccessible by commercial airlines,” adds Saunders.

The Cessna Mustang also provides passengers with a large baggage area, comfortable seating, a lavatory, and ample cabin space and height. And with a 630 kilometre per hour cruising speed and a range of 2,130 kilometres, it’s a viable choice for corporate groups or leisure travellers seeking to arrive in style.

“With business travel, usually it’s two or three people that manifest in a jet aircraft – and when you’re two or three people in a jet that sits eight, it feels weird – it feels like there is a lot of waste,” Saunders says. “The Mustang is the perfect aircraft because when you sit in the back, it’s like sitting in a nice sedan. If the flight is less than an hour and a half, it’s the perfect time; you get there and you feel like you’ve used your resources properly.”

On the horizon
While Opus has only been in the market since Sept. 2010, the future beckons. The small but dynamic firm of 15 employees and nine pilots is hoping to trigger enough business for expansion. One goal, says Saunders, is to add more aircraft and continue enticing individuals and businesses fed up with commercial travel to pursue the charter alternative. Positioning an aircraft in Calgary to serve that market is another key goal.

“The first couple of years will be proof of concept,” Saunders says. “And there are a couple of things working in our favour. Obviously, the price dynamic, but there’s also opportunity for people that need to go transborder. This is even more exciting for us because it’s such a hassle to go to the airport, get searched and X-rayed and all that other fun stuff. And the pricing for short transborder hops from Vancouver to Seattle or Portland, for example, is ridiculous. I think there’s a big market for just doing these slightly off-kilter routes where a lot of people travel to.”

Given its diversified fleet, cost-effective price point, and positioning in the market, it sounds as though Opus has the potential to be a well-orchestrated masterpiece.