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COVER STORY 51
It was a bit tricky shoehorning myself into the co-pilot’s seat. Rather
like getting into the front seat of a car via the rear door. Actually, the
car analogy is not a bad one. The main cabin of the Eclipse 500 I
was getting into contained three seats that for all the world would
have graced a very top-end luxury saloon. And there was about as
much head and leg room too. And no loo.
But to understand what this new breed of VLJ (Very Light Jets) is
doing to the business travel sector, you have to cast from your mind
ideas of quaffing champers at 30,000 feet, spacious cabins and
trolly dollies at your beck and call. Such luxury costs a fortune that
only a tiny proportion of us can afford. The whole point of VLJ’s is
that vastly more of us can now afford business jet travel, and might
even save money if we get the planning right.
But more of that in a moment. Back to the action. I was sitting next
to Michael Ashall, Executive Chairman of VenCap International plc,
through the cattle pens that major British airports have become is
who as well as holding a full commercial pilot’s licence also owns
unbeatable. At least, that is the case they are trying to make.
the $2m plane (see page 53). In front of us were three computer
screens detailing every single facet of the jet’s operations, right
“When you look at the marketplace, there is a huge gap between the
down to the cabin climate controls. Michael browsed effortlessly
conventional business jet market at the top end of the price spectrum
through the system displays, bringing up screen after screen of
and first or business class scheduled air travel lower down,” says Andy
data which looked for all the world like a computer game on
Black. “We intend to fill that gap with VLJ services. We can offer these
steroids. I draped my right hand gently over the joystick perched prices because the Eclipse costs just 20% of what a regular business
beside my seat, which looked and felt just like a gaming control. jet would cost plus, thanks to the NASA inspired technology behind it,
I could feel the stick twitch as Michael went through final system running costs are extremely efficient and the carbon cost equally low.”
checks on the stick to the left of his seat.
Ambeo intends to operate a fleet of 30 jets and, with Cranfield Airport
We began to taxi into position, then with a surprisingly muted roar, as launch base, that will service demands from anywhere in Europe.
we sped at incredible speed down the runway and headed
skywards like a small rocket. The skies over Oxford Airport were thick Say you wanted to tour your company’s main European bases of
with cloud, but soon we were above them and speeding through operations: you will simply call for a quote as little as 24 hours
the brilliant blue sky towards Wales. It was exhilarating, like being in ahead, then Ambeo will send a car for you in the morning, take
a supercar. The plane can do 425mph at 41,000 feet, which is you to your nearest jet-capable airfield, whisk you around your
astonishing for such a small craft and which again explains the destinations and have you back in time for supper.
massive difference it is about to make to the marketplace. Michael
switched on the autopilot and we settled into a wonderfully relaxed “There is actually an Eclipse customer in Amsterdam who does this,”
ride, doing a few gentle turns over the Welsh coast before heading Andy says. “He has factories in Hannover, Hamburg and Limerick.
to Cranfield Airport in Bedfordshire. We dipped back into the grey No way could he visit them all in one day using scheduled services,
skies of August and light as a feather touched down, watched by but with an Eclipse he can do it all, saving himself time and hotel
crowds of spectators intrigued by this spectacular little jet. costs into the bargain.”
We were there to meet the executive team at Ambeo PLC, a start- The investment challenge facing the Ambeo team is a formidable
up led by a brilliant and charismatic young German aerospace one and while the VLJ concept should be brilliant news for
scientist Dr. Frank Noppel, a graduate from Cranfield who now runs executives finding it hard to justify current levels of personal jet travel
his business from CUBIC, the Cranfield University Business Incubation to their board and shareholders, it is undeniably a tough market out
Centre. With him were Ambeo chairman Andy Black, a prolific and there. Andy Black remains upbeat on several counts.
highly successful entrepreneur in the IT sector and Marketing “Yes, we are superbly placed to allow business people to have their
Director Simon Gall. Their mission is to create a revolutionary on cake and eat it,” he says. “They can slash their travel costs, convince
demand, door-to-door jet taxi service that for prices only a little their shareholders they are being environmentally friendly with a
higher than full business class will take executives and leisure brilliantly efficient mode of transport and still enjoy the benefits of
travellers wherever they want to go, whenever they want to go, private jet travel. But then you factor in the increasing awfulness of
anywhere in Europe. With destinations like southern Spain only 3 scheduled travel and it becomes a no-brainer. To cap it all, we
hours away, and the vast majority of likely business destinations only have developed an investment vehicle which protects investors’
2 hours distant, the argument for using VLJ’s instead of wading basic investment and will, we hope, generate exciting returns.”
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