By James Careless
In January 1994, Captain Emil St. Hilaire founded A ‘Corporate Aviation Support Service company’ in Canada; ACASS for short.
By James Careless
In January 1994, Captain Emil St. Hilaire founded A ‘Corporate Aviation
Support Service company’ in Canada; ACASS for short. His goal was to
help corporate aircraft owners/operators find skilled pilots and crew.
“We saw a need for contract crewings, in situations where pilots and
crew were needed for a week or two,” says St Hilaire.
Captain Emil St. Hilaire (on left) stands with ACASS president/CEO Andre Khury.
“Say that one of the regular crew was on leave or short-handed. There was a clear need for a company who could make up this shortfall, by providing trained, experienced personnel to fill the gap on a contractual basis.”
Today, ACASS is still providing crew support and pilot placement services for Boeing BBJ/727, Bombardier, Hawker-Beechcraft, Cessna, Dassault and Gulfstream jet aircraft.
Under the leadership of president/CEO Andre Khury and St Hilaire, ACASS has grown from a handful of people to almost 60, and now offers a wide range of services to corporate owners/operators. These include aircraft management, aircraft sales and acquisitions, charter services, interim lift and access to ACASS’ own fleet of private aircraft.
Today, more than 80 per cent of ACASS’ business is conducted outside of Canada, for people such as heads of state, VIPs and Fortune 500 executives. Judging by its library of testimonials, they’re pretty happy with its service.
“ACASS is a supremely professional company, with the all-important knowledge required in the aviation industry to provide first-class service to aircraft owners and operators alike,” says Mohammad Safadi, Lebanon’s minister of public works and transport. “ACASS has always been there for us when we needed last minute or continuing support,” adds Robert Wells, CEO of TAG Aviation Europe.
ACASS offers a wide range of services to corporate owners/operators including access to ACASS’ own fleet of private aircraft.
Pilot Placement: ACASS’ Bread-and-Butter
Even today, finding the right pilots and crews for corporate clients is at the centre of ACASS’ business, which is not an easy challenge: The growing popularity of corporate aviation in Asia, Russia and the Middle East is eating into the pool of potential employees, as is the retirement of ‘Baby Boomer’ pilots.
To deal with this challenge, “we have full-time staff in-house whose
only purpose is to locate and recruit quality pilots,” says Khury.
“Their sole task is to look for talent around the world, and then
convince the best to join us.” To sweeten the offer, ACASS offers
competitive pay, benefits and ongoing support wherever they may be
based. “Pilots want to be looked after, given how much they work away
from home,” he says. “Our job is to act as their umbilical cord,
ensuring that everything they need is taken care of.”
This is no small matter. As a global company, ACASS fills pilot and
crew requirements worldwide. This means it needs pilots and crew who
can work in other cultures, often for six to eight weeks at a stretch.
In contrast to the commercial world, these employees must be willing to
work in a flexible scheduling environment, where takeoffs can be pushed
up and departures delayed at any time by clients. “In the Middle East
or India, being booked to leave at 8 a.m. may mean that you actually
leave at 2 p.m., while returning on the 15th might actually mean coming
back on the 11th,” says Khury. “It is a much more volatile environment
than most pilots are accustomed to, and it can make flight planning
And that’s not all. ACASS’ pilots must be willing to act as able and
courteous hosts to their passengers, rather than just as high-paid
chauffeurs isolated in their cockpits. In Middle Eastern, East Indian
and Asian countries, the etiquette of passenger service is also
different from the North American norm, particularly if your passengers
are members of Middle Eastern royal families.
All told, ACASS expects a lot from its pilots and crews, which is why
it pays well, on time, all the time. Moreover, it gives them an
opportunity to experience a much more fluid and potentially exciting
form of work; at least when compared to going back and forth on the
same route day in and day out.
Aircraft Acquisition, Management and Sales
Buying, maintaining and selling aircraft are not activities for the
inexperienced or the faint-of-heart. With their high price tags and
operating costs, business jets can quickly become a money pit for the
unwary, costing far more than they provide in convenience and personal
Given ACASS’ expertise in business aviation, it makes sense for the
company to act as a go-between for its clients, helping them find and
finance the right aircraft, maintain and house it, and eventually sell
it when the time is right in the future. In doing so, “We look at what
customers actually want to do with their aircraft,” Khury says. “We
consider the destinations they need to access, because this determines
which aircraft are optimally appropriate in terms of range, speed and
size. We analyze crewing requirements; is the customer looking at an
aircraft that is widely flown by today’s pilots? We also consider
interior space requirements, and how this aircraft will be taken care
of. In short, we cover it all.”
Charters and Interim Lift
ACASS didn’t start out intending to provide charter services. But in
response to customer demand, the company now provides charter services
for Cessna Citation, Bombardier Challenger, Dassault Falcon, Gulfstream
and Hawker-Beechcraft business jets. Some of these come from its own
fleet while some are leased from third-party providers.
For clients who need the kind of on-demand service provided by owning a
business jet but are waiting for one to be delivered, ACASS offers
Interim Lift service. This is a leased form of dedicated corporate jet
service, without the ownership element. “Interim Lift helps business
people get fast access to the transportation they need,” says Khury.
“Given how backed up aircraft manufacturers are these days, and the
resulting lack of product in the used market, Interim Lift is a welcome
bridge between charter and private ownership.”
The past 15 years have been good to ACASS. but the future, although promising, presents some real challenges.
Chief among these are finding good staff for its clients. Although the
slowdown in the commercial aviation industry is putting laid-off pilots
back on the market, growing demand in Russia, the Middle East and Asia
is increasing competition for their talents. ACASS’ ability to keep
finding good help will hinge on offering pilots/crews a better mix of
pay, benefits and working environments than other firms.
Operating costs are another consideration: As fuel and other expenses
go up, ACASS has to pass these costs on to its charter and Interim Lift
customers. Add the U.S. sub-prime credit crunch still reverberating
throughout the global economy, and one has to wonder how these factors
may cut into ACASS’ sales. With any luck, increases in corporate travel
in the Middle East and Asia will offset any shrinkage in the North
American and European markets.
This said, Khury is optimistic about the future, both for ACASS and
other members of the Canadian Business Aviation Association. (Khury is
chair of CBAA’s Quebec chapter.) “We will succeed by keeping one eye on
the present and the other on future opportunities,” he says. “We are
aggressive in nature, and have the knowledge, networks and wherewithal
to keep growing and succeeding.”