LONDON: Air Partner Plc, the global aviation services group, has issued an update on the company’s approach to the COVID-19 virus, protective actions being taken, current trading and outlook.
Despite the global impact of COVID-19, we have had an extremely busy start to the new financial year, with February reporting a good profit and March starting strongly. In direct response to the COVID-19 outbreak, we launched a new product, Air Partner Protect, to support customers flying during this difficult time.
This unique product combines the capabilities and services of our Charter and Safety & Security divisions in one dedicated project team, to mobilise and support customers. Recent examples of Air Partner Protect in action are the projects undertaken for the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Office (FCO), repatriating over 300 British and EU nationals from Wuhan and thereafter repatriating 32 passengers from the Yokohama cruise ship. We are receiving a number of enquiries for this product and our teams are working 24/7 to deliver bespoke solutions.
Group Charter, which specialises in chartering aircraft carrying over 20 people, has seen customers cancelling or delaying travel plans, particularly in the Meetings, Incentives, Conferences & Exhibitions (MICE), Sports and Tour Operations sectors. Our forward order book included significant MICE events which have now been delayed indefinitely and we were due to benefit from scheduled sporting tournaments in 2020, notably the Euros, which have now been postponed until next year. However, the delays and loss of this work could be mitigated by an increase in aid projects and evacuation activity. Our strong reputation and track record serving the global cruise sector means that we are working currently to help these customers repatriate significant volumes of passengers.
Our Private Jets division, which charters aircraft for up to 19 people, has seen continued high levels of activity in the USA, where there is a more developed private aviation market, with companies and individuals continuing to travel. The UK and European private jet markets have been severely impacted by COVID-19, and we have seen a number of cancellations or postponements as our customers significantly reduce travel. These markets were beginning to show signs of recovery at the turn of the year post the UK general election and the Brexit outcome.
Freight demand has slowed as the COVID-19 crisis intensifies and supply chains have become interrupted by factory closures and travel bans. Freight volumes will increase in due course as supply chains recover, and in our experience of prior outbreaks, it is likely that they will surge sharply once aid projects begin to ship supplies, equipment and personnel to affected areas.
Safety & Security:
Training, testing and consulting activities have seen an immediate impact from COVID-19 as the vast majority of these activities are delivered physically onsite or in classrooms, and restrictions on delegate travel, workplace attendance and meetings have led to cancellations or indefinite deferral until the crisis abates. Prior to the outbreak we had a strong pipeline. Where possible, we are switching in-person courses to e-Learning. However, it is too early to forecast when or how these activities will recover post the COVID-19 crisis as this is an unprecedented situation and customers include global airline carriers and airports, which have been severely hit by the crisis.
Our long-term contracts remain unaffected, though some activities such as covert security at airports will be impacted until passenger volumes through terminals return to more usual levels. The acquisition of Redline in December 2019 increased our forward long-term contract portfolio significantly, and these security contracts join our other long-term contracted activities, including wildlife hazard management at UK airports, airfields and the world-leading Isle of Man Aircraft Registry.
The acquisition of Redline is proving its strategic rationale far earlier than we could ever have expected, most notably as part of our newly launched Air Partner Protect product. The Redline team worked alongside the Group Charter and Freight teams to carry out the evacuation of British and Irish nationals from a cruise ship in Yokohama, a multi-faceted project which required all evacuees and their baggage to be security screened before boarding the flight back to the UK.
Dividend and current outlook:
The COVID-19 crisis began at the start of our financial year and so it is too early to judge the full year impact – either positively or negatively – with any degree of certainty at this point. As a result, it is no longer possible to provide financial guidance for the remainder of the financial year ending 31 January 2021. Across the Group, costs are being tightly managed to preserve cash and to maintain sufficient working capital in the business to support customer demand through this crisis. Accordingly, the Board expects that it will not be in a position to make a recommendation on dividend payments until the crisis has passed, and a clearer outlook has emerged.
The Board reminds shareholders that the Group owns no aircraft and does not operate as an airline.
Mark Briffa, Air Partner CEO, said: “It is an extremely precarious time for the global aviation industry, which is facing unprecedented pressures and challenges, in the face of which we continue to manage the business in the best interests of all our stakeholders. We appreciate that travel bans and restrictions are necessary to limit the spread of COVID-19, but we would urge governments to recognise that some air travel is vital in order to evacuate people from high-risk areas, repatriate citizens and transport much needed aid and medical supplies. Appropriate designations and approvals need to be put in place swiftly to enable such crisis flights to take place, and all parties must unite in a common cause so that global air infrastructure can play its part in combating this crisis.”