Kalbraier plans take-off for aviation firm

Suffolk-based entrepreneur Graeme Kalbraier has established an unusual spin-off from his insurance call handling company Call Connection – an aircraft charter business.

The company, SaxonAir, was originally set up by Kalbraier to provide transport for Call Connection’s key management. But recognising the growth in private air travel in the past few years, Kalbraier saw an opportunity to make money when the aircraft were not being used by Call Connection.

Now SaxonAir, which operates out of Norwich International Airport, is providing private air travel tailored to customer’s needs.

Moreover, Kalbraier has signalled the seriousness of intentions for SaxonAir by hiring two established figures in the aviation industry, Chris Mace and James Palmer, as operations director and operations manager respectively. Mace, a former operations director at Sterling Aviation, has been in the industry from some 15 years. Palmer has a further five years experience.

SaxonAir operates on a stand alone basis from Call Connection, with Kalbraier overseeing operations from his base in Ipswich, while Mace and Palmer handle day-to-day operations.

Kalbraier has made a “considerable investment” into the start-up of the business, with the potential for up to $30 million [£14.6 million] more to come for purchasing jets. “There is potential for a lot more money to be put into the company, certainly we’re talking about the purchase of further business jets, both short and long haul,” Palmer said.

He believes interest in the private charter industry is growing, with business people increasingly frustrated with conventional airlines, especially following recent security alerts and lengthening times to get through airport controls.

“In air charter flights you generally turn up to your own private charter facility – like a mini terminal specifically for executives – at most airports,” Palmer said. “You’ll turn up approximately 15 minutes before the flight… the security is still as thorough, but clearly you’re on board with colleagues, friends, acquaintances and family you know. So it’s unlikely there is anyone going to be taking anything onto these aircraft that would put lives in jeopardy.”

Currently, SaxonAir operates an eight-seater aeroplane from Norwich and a helicopter based at Stapleford airfield near the M11 and M25. The carrier also has a five-six seater business jet on order and can provide a range of other aircraft if needed, through its links with other private jet owners. It can fly to airports throughout Europe and the Middle East.

Palmer said SaxonAir is mostly providing sub-charter work – sourcing aircraft for customers – and is turning over “quite a considerable amount” already, although he had no figures to confirm this. “I think [SaxonAir] will make a reasonable profit contribution this year,” he said.

Marc Barber

Marc Barber

Marc was editor of GrowthBusiness from 2006 to 2010. He specialised in writing about entrepreneurs, private equity and venture capital, mid-market M&A, small caps and high-growth businesses.

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