Scott Ashton has been president since August 2011 of Associated Aircraft Group, the wholly owned charter operation and support subsidiary of Sikorsky. R&WI visited with him before Heli-Expo to discuss the outfit’s operations and activities over the last year.
What is the range of activities that Associated Aircraft Group conducts?
As Sikorsky's wholly owned charter arm, we operate a combination of owned and managed S-76s. Right now, we have 11 total aircraft with eight aircraft under management. We anticipate that growing by two this quarter. So that will bring us up 13 aircraft. We have one core aircraft that we own among the three fractional aircraft.
All our aircraft are S-76s. We have some B models. The fractional program has C++ aircraft. Hopefully by the end of this quarter, we'll have our first S-76D under management. That is the aircraft that is on display in our booth.
We have a fractional ownership program called Sikorsky Shares, which has been in existence for about 10 years. We also have a charter/card program. So that's an ad hoc Part 135 charter operation and the Excalibur card, which is a traditional prepaid charter card.
We have a maintenance, repair and overhaul Part 145 repair station. It's also a Sikorsky-authorized maintenance center.
So basically we're a full service, end-to-end solution for anybody interested in the S-76 for management, operation, charter, fractional and MRO.
Most of our aircraft are based in the metro New York area. We’ve got a managed aircraft in Providence. We've got an operation in Trenton and Teterboro, New Jersey, and in Poughkeepsie, New York. Basically, everything is in the northeast.
Our total headcount is around 70 people, and that's growing.
How was 2016 for AAG?
We had a record year for charter. Our charter operations were up, I think, around 45% year over year. The charter program has become very successful as we've tried to market the product internationally to get business jet operators all around the world when they come to the Northeast U.S.
Another thing we've tried to do is to educate clients on how to better utilize the helicopter. There are a lot of missions that we can do faster in a helicopter than can be done in a business jet. Washington, D.C. is a great example of that.
We've been doing a lot of trips to some of the smaller outlying airports between Dulles International Airport and Washington D.C. Door to door, we can get clients from New York or from Philadelphia into D.C. a lot faster than people who take business jets out of Teterboro into Dulles and drive into Washington.
So we work very closely with flight departments and family office managers and principals to try to use the helicopter a lot more effectively. And so consequently, our operations are have grown quite a bit.
Also last year, we grew our managed fleet. We added two aircraft to the managed fleet and plan to add another two coming up this quarter.
What is a key highlight of the last year?
Last year, AAG passed 55,000 hours of safe flying time.
Also, for the first time last fall we achieved Stage 3 certification under the International Standard for Business Aircraft Operations (IS-BAO), which is a huge accomplishment for us and something honestly that was probably five years in the making. That's a big commitment on the part of the company and the employees to get that sustainable safety management system. I think it's important for us to do that for two reasons.
One is it sends a signal to our clients, flight departments, especially international clients that are really focused on IS-BAO because of the International Civil Aviation Organization aspects of the safety management system. It shows that we have a world-class safety management system that's been vetted by an independent third party.
Two, internally it reinforces the message that safety is a critical function of the AAG operating system.
All the way around, 2016 was a record year for us.
How are you evolving your operations?
We've tried to diversify our portfolio, if you will, and branch out, and very successfully. Much of our operations are around New York City, particularly from the city to the East End of Long Island and back. But we do a lot of flights out of Philadelphia and up to Hartford, Connecticut. Boston is becoming much more of a destination, and our D.C. flights have picked up.
That gets back to us educating our clients. If we're going to get you in a helicopter to take you to Teterboro to catch a business jet, if you're going to Philadelphia, Hartford, Boston or D.C., you're better off to staying in the helicopter. Let us take you to your final destination.
What are some of the operational issues you face in 2017, such as the fact that the sitting U.S. president may be living part of the year in the heart of Manhattan?
In Manhattan, we serve the heliports at Wall Street, and West 30th and East 34th streets. We've dealt with flight restrictions before, for instance when the president has spoken at the United Nations and made other visits to New York City and the surrounding areas. A good working relationship with the stakeholders is very important.
A longer-term issue for us, and for the helicopter industry, concerns noise on the eastern end of Long Island. We do a lot of city-to-Easthampton line, Thursday night out, Sunday night or Monday morning back into the city.
East Hampton is a very noise-sensitive place. Not just helicopters, but noise-sensitive to everything: trucks, construction equipment, lawnmowers. That is a big deal to the people that live out there, and for good reasons. They want a certain lifestyle.
So we are very sensitive to our noise footprint and not just AAG, the entire community. I'm very involved with Eastern Region Helicopter Council. We have a Flying Neighborly program. We work very closely with the community on routes and altitudes to try to mitigate our footprint to the maximum extent possible while still serving our clients who want to use East Hampton Airport.