Tell us about the coffee that you're drinking today ?
Actually, I just literally finished it. I'm a cappuccino kind of guy so I like a double espresso with some fresh organic milk frothed on top, I'm very fortunate, I live in a house that has a wonderful view of the Squamish Valley with the ocean and the glaciers around it so I make my coffee and I try to assemble my thoughts for the day by looking out at the mountains. I take some deep breaths of fresh, clean air, relax and am grateful before I get into the office and start doing some real work.
So, what is your background and how did you get to where you are today ?
Well, I was very fortunate as I grew up in a small family where my father was a fighter pilot with the Royal Canadian Air Force. We spent quite a bit of time living in German - my mother's German. I was instilled with a passion for aviation at a very young age. In fact my first real memory is sitting in my high chair in a small apartment in Germany and my dad coming into the kitchen with his flight suit on and his oversized boots clumping over to me. My dad for me always smelled of kerosene and leather gloves and sweat so flying was something that was really deeply ingrained in me.
He taught me how to fly. I flew solo when I was 16. I thought of becoming a pilot. Then I was introduced to someone who worked on aircraft avionics. Aircraft instrument systems fascinated me and I ended up becoming an aircraft maintenance engineer, started working for De Havilland Canada and, later, for a number of different companies. I left Canada in 1988 and for the next 24 years I travelled around the globe working in aviation – I worked with some really fantastic companies and met some truly wonderful people.
I was part of the team that set up Daimler Chrysler's corporate jet division in 2000. I helped set up a company called Santos Dumont in Ireland which is an aircraft consultancy specialising in the delivery and redelivery of aircraft, and later on I was recruited by Qatar Airways as part of their senior management team that launched Qatar Executive.
So I've had quite a bit of aviation experience over the past four decades. My true passion has been the last 20 years of corporate and private aviation. The idea of taking someone's vision or their idea of wanting to have a private jet, whether they're wealthy or a head of state and turning that idea into something that not only flies, but it's an incredibly comfortable and enjoyable experience to travel in is a satisfying experience. I love it.
What are the services that Camber Aviation provides to its Clients ?
Camber Aviation is a small team of six experts. We really don't want to grow in size because we've got a great team, and we really can depend and rely on each other.
Our team consists of four licensed aircraft engineers, a DER test pilot and our great project manager, Tina. Together we do 2 – 3 projects a year. Yes, we are completion managers but that's really only a small portion of what we do. Our specialty is being able to sit down with someone, who would like to have a private jet and we take them through the process of first understanding their requirements, why they need it, and then being able to figure out what would be the best type of aircraft to meet their needs. We offer an alternative to the hours many future owners and their advisors spend on the internet - we actually understand what is on and off market. We have good relationships with brokers, and whilst we don't broker aircraft, we survey the market to find the right aircraft for that person and from which we can then manage the outfitting, refurbishment or restyling of their private jet.
And to be quite honest, the best deals that we are seeing, both in terms of value and schedule, is to acquire a pre-owned aircraft with good pedigree, install a cabin that uniquely fits your requirements (and perhaps isn’t even offered by the OEM!) and apply a new livery. Done correctly, I challenge most people to be able to tell the difference between a brand new Global, for example and one that's been freshly refurbished, with the exception of how much money is left in your wallet and how long it took from idea to delivery.
So that's really what we do - from that initial spark, we guide our client from the process of finding the right aircraft, to the design element which is obviously lots of fun, overseeing the build at the selected completion center, making sure that it's certified properly and then helping put it into service, and often, we’ll who would be the best pilot or management company to go run that operation for them.
Are you tied to any particular aircraft manufacturer or aircraft type ?
So we're absolutely independent, we're not tied to a broker or manufacturer, we do operate in the upper end of the market, what we would call large cabin aircraft, so the Global series, Gulfstreams, Falcons, but our real specialty are Airbus and Boeing narrow and wide body aircraft. So we've been involved, for example, in BBJ's 737's, 787, 747’s and the Airbus series.
What would be your advice to customers looking to make the most efficient use and gain the most positive outcomes from using your services ?
Our clients come to us, either from a recommendation, through our website or after having read one of the many articles we've written. Our ideal client is someone that is open, thoughtful and who can articulate what their requirements are. The more we understand at the beginning of a project where they want to fly, who they want to fly with, the service expectations on board, how do they like to sleep, eat and entertain, all of this together, if we really understand that at the beginning, then we can work exceptionally well with the designer and the completion center to put together a design, and ultimately a cabin that is going to reflect exactly what that person is expecting. Not just the functionality, but the aesthetics – down to the last stitch and thoughtful detail, that go with it.
Are you able to work with clients from across the globe, or do youprefer to work within a specific region ?
We work with clients from around the world, with many of our clients living in Europe and the Middle East. Members of our team live in Europe. Others live in North America. You know, the project is never going to be where you live, so everybody lives in their own vision of the best place in the world, and everyone has a different opinion of that. We've worked on Zoom and Skype and all the different video conferencing platforms for the last eight years, so this is nothing new to us. We put together the best team for each project. So, if there's a project in Switzerland, for example, one of our European based team members will be on-site with the rest supporting from home. For longer projects, we’ll dedicate two team members for on-site support, switching out periodically with overlap. That works very very well, and really the only difference for a client is perhaps the airfare to get to a location, but in the case of Europe, we already have two people nearby - one is in Frankfurt and the second in Crete.
Whilst some of our, I wouldn't say competitors but other people working in this niche, tend to call themselves completion managers with their focus on completion oversight. There seems to be less teamwork between them and the client’s pilot, financial advisor and perhaps the lawyer. Our view is the further we can push our work upstream, providing strategic advice earlier in the project, guiding the client and advising on which aircraft is best for them, the more we can work with the rest of the team to make sure that everyone is onside and that their views are being heard. Obviously, the pilot is most interested in what's in the flight deck, and the finance guy wants to make sure they get the best deal and and the lawyer wants to make sure they negotiate the best contract, but I strongly believe that, by working collaboratively, using everyone’s strengths and experience, together, from the start of the project, the better the finished aircraft will be. For most clients it may be the first or second time they're acquiring and outfitting an aircraft and they, frankly, don’t always know what they don’t know. So allowing Camber to give them guidance on technical aspects along with warranty, support and pilot training advice, for example, we can add considerable value to the project. These elements are big parts of the aircraft package that can save a huge amount of money, reduce stress and the lower project risks. Experience mean that we can support the negotiations, often increasing the services provided by the OEMs at little or no additional cost. Yeah, so I think that whole team aspect is really important.
I think that's probably one of the best pieces of advice that any customer can be given, is to be advised on the right team to put together, because with these projects they are never completed by an Individual, the final output, the quality of the deliverable is down to the quality of the team that has been put together.
Yes and we've been in situations where someone has come to us and said listen, “we just bought this airplane” and we get to read the contract and we say wow this is a well written legal contract and, in the financial sense well taken care of, but you missed including a training package, extended warranties or you missed the customer support or maybe an engineering data package where you could have a credit for it. And that's, that's not because that lawyer wasn't a good lawyer, or the finance guy didn't put together a good package, it's that they focus on what they know best and we know the technical part and it's just one of those four specialities, pilot, engineer, lawyer and finance specialist, that together, get the best possible solution.
As part of the services you provide you have the capabilities to write purchase agreements for the aircraft ?
We won't write the purchase agreement for a client. We definitely don't do that. But we will happily critically review the agreement and provide constructive guidance on those subjects that we have the expertise.
Prior to the purchase agreement, we will survey the market, identify candidate aircraft, shortlist the top three that are within the client’s budget and then Camber would perform technical inspections - not a full PPI - but a technical inspection and detailed document review. We would then identify the best aircraft, best equipped, best pedigree and the one that's closest to the floor plan that you obviously want to have. We’d then explain which is the best aircraft and these are the reasons to consider its purchase.
So, specific to the conversion, the completion specification, isthis part of your remit ?
Yes, absolutely, I think that completion specifications are one of the weakest parts of the majority of the business aircraft outfitting and refurbishing programs. A detailed specification is the cornerstone of a successful completion. By precisely capturing all the design details together with system requirements, quality and finish standards, the vast majority of the misunderstandings and potential conflicts during the completion are alleviated. Everyone can now concentrate on creating and delivering the best possible aircraft to the client. A designer cannot draft the completion specification, but they are an essential component, support us during the drafting and proofreading it to ensure each element, each facet of their design is captured. Camber’s task is to ensure that there is sufficient detail for the completion center to understand their deliverables and to create their quote accordingly. So to give you an example, a good narrowbody specification will run somewhere around 150 pages and a widebody is going to be 200 pages plus. When we write the specification, our team provides as much detail as possible and in areas that we don't have the detail yet – perhaps the supplier hasn’t yet been selected - we will work the parameters and the requirements for it into the specification. We can the release the RFP, which includes the cabin specification, to two or three of the qualified completion centers. What the completion centers really like is that the more detailed the spec, the easier it is to make a good, solid quote, and you don't have to put that thick financial pad on the top for undefined work.
Yes, absolutely, the more definition, the less risk will be priced in.
Exactly. It's a very, very clear agreement so that any changes result in a change order, and it may affect cost and it may affect schedule. So if we know that we put discipline in the program right at the beginning. So, it means the completion center can sharpen their pencils and make a really good offer. And in return, the client is going to be true to the design, unless a change order is required. So it's a much much better way to do it and it gets rid of 80 or 90% of the areas where you would have potential conflict between the parties, simply by having a very good specification. We've been parachuted in a few times now to help someone pick up an airplane where they didn't have technical representation during outfitting. And the first thing we always ask for is the spec.
We’ve been in situation where the spec is literally 30 pages long and, you know, there's not enough definition detail and you're going to have conflicts. This is especially true if the client themselves has not visited the aircraft during outfitting, because the client will have a vision of what it's going to look like in their head, and on the other side the completion center is interpreting as best they can.
How are you seeing business within regions develop, primarily still around the traditional locations or are you seeing new customers from new areas ?
I think there's a fair amount of change if we take a look at who our customers have been in the last 18 months. What I find surprising is that several client are private individuals, wealthy individuals, who are looking for their first aircraft, and in each case, it's been a pre-owned BBJ. These people look at the value proposition –buying an older aircraft in good technical condition is less expensive and far quicker than ordering a new green aircraft. They want to restyle the cabin, upgrade systems and add their livery. It can be done quicker and at a much lower cost than purchasing new. They're up for that they're interested in it.
You read quite a bit about people entering the market, purchasing perhaps a Citation or perhaps a Challenger as their first aircraft. We're seeing it at the other end of the market, the three serious inquiries that we have and that we're working with now, are all BBJ's.
Would you have any insights as to why your customers are showing apreference to the BBJ instead of the ACJ ?
I think it's a game of numbers. I wouldn't say it's an affinity or a want to go with one particular manufacturer over the other, but rather, there seems interest simply because greater numbers of BBJ's are in the market. The largest number were built between1999 and 2005, so they're reaching the point where the original owners that bought the aircraft have gotten older, aren't flying as much anymore, and are looking to sell the aircraft. There seems to be a larger number of BBJs right now on the market, I wouldn't say as a percentage, any more than ACJs, but simply more BBJs were built and more are available, and that's that's providing a very strong value proposition. Airbus has really been with the narrowbody ACJs since the mid 2000’s. So those aircraft are simply at least five years younger, on average, and that puts a different demographic on it.
So how have the last 12 months been for you personally and professionally ?
Well, personally, you know the last 12 months have been challenging. In Canada we had lockdowns like in many parts of the world, but living in a small town we had a lot more flexibility, simply because we've got the mountains and the biking trails and everything around us. So we were allowed to still use all of those sports facilities, which I think is a huge, huge advantage compared to someone living in a city who's literally trapped in their apartment. So I think the stress was not as heavily on me as it would have been if I had lived in a large city.
From a business point of view, what it did is it really gave us the opportunity to re-evaluate some of the work we're doing. Refine our processes, really take a look at communicating our ideas such as “streamline,” which is the process of speaking with a client, defining what their requirements are and taking them through the whole process right to the delivery of their competed aircraft that was really very well refined during the pandemic.
And we took quite a bit of time figuring out how to make business aviation more exciting. Camber decided that we'd like to create an award called the Revive Design Awards, which takes five designers and five design schools, give them a challenge. They’re tasked with creating a new interior for an older BBJ aircraft with a strict budget. It’s asking for some out-of-the-box creative thinking. This year we're doing it for the first time and we’re partnering Boeing Business Jets, using an older BBJ cabin design giving it to the designers and saying okay you've got eight weeks to design an interior, that's what your budget is and it's got to be certifiable. Each designer will present in front of a professional jury and a very interested audience at the event and following on social media on the 13th of November in Dubai, the night before the Dubai Air Show. I’m really looking forward to seeing what the designers create.
And what would your outlook be for the next 12 months ?
I think the next 12 months will bring an even greater interest in private aviation. We're seeing already. Brokers are reporting less pre-owned inventory available to purchase and OEMs will only cautiously increase production, which I think is good, you don't want to go and spike the market. I think there'll be much, much more interest in pre owned aircraft. There's simply a larger number of those aircraft out there. Many of these airplanes are 10+ years old and they've got a bit of a dated interior. It's much like your office, at some point it's time to throw out the old couch and repaint the walls and put in a new rug. And I think that's going to appeal to people when they understand the value, and what can be done. I think you'll have a lot of people who are entering the market who say okay, this is nice airframe but I'd like something fresh and I want something to represent what I'm doing. It's a refurbishment or restyle, however you'd like to call it. There's a lot more possibilities than the classic OEM layouts, so I think you'll see a lot more individuality coming in.
So what do you feel the industry is doing well today. And then, what do you feel the industry can improve ?
I think where we can do better. Let's go away from just the client experience. I think everyone is focused on that, and everyone does their best. I think we have to take a very good look at seriously tackling the carbon impact that we're doing to the world. You know, it's very easy, even though we as an industry only make, I believe it's 0.4% of an impact on carbon per year. I believe that we are an industry that is very easy to pick out and point your finger at: high net worth flying around in private jets, is just too easy. In fact, it's much easier to point at private jets than at your own car despite car drivers around the world are creating a much higher percentage of carbon.
But in order to tackle it, we know that overnight, we're not going change to electric or hydrogen aircraft, and we know that we can only do so much on the efficiencies of aircraft. We have to be fair in that we can't overnight scrap all the airplanes we're using today and make brand new ones that are much more efficient. It doesn't work in real life. But what we can do as an organisation, besides using sustainable aviation fuels, is really start taking a look at can we do with carbon offsets and can we do it properly.
We know that carbon sequestration is feasible. There are carbon credits or carbon certificates that you can buy on the market. Why not do, not just a 100% offset, but say okay, look, I'm going to use 10 tonnes of carbon on this trip. I'm going to do a 120% offset. I think that takes the wind out of many, many people's arguments about business aviation. It shows that owners and operators are in good faith, working in the right direction. It's a small amount of money to pay. No it is not a tax and it would be voluntary, but by being able to do that and getting a groundswell of people doing that, I think would start shifting the image of the industry to the public. And all the while making a positive impact. I mean, a carbon credit, let's be honest, is roughly trading at 35 euros a ton right now. We're not talking about a huge amount of money, but you are offsetting and you’re doing something very good for the environment and publicity. When someone asks you, whether it's at as shareholders meeting or at a cocktail party, what you’re doing about the environment, you can point to carbon offsetting and your use of sustainable fuels and say we are doing something we're not just doing 100% offset, we're doing 120%
Ok, that leaves me with my final question, if you had $100M to spend on your dream hangar, what would you do ?
Yes, so I actually give that a fair amount of thought, okay, so how would I spend 100 million US on a dream hanger.
Well, I'm going to take the challenge and say, that’s a lot of money for me to build a hangar where I live in Squamish. My town has a tiny airport and it's underfunded. I wouldn’t be the guy that wants to put 100 million just into my hangar. No,I would put money into the airport – I’d lengthen the runway and the next thing I’d do is put a fence around it. I know for Europeans, it's hard to believe, but we don't have a fence around the entire runway, so we have a wildlife problem. I experienced just such an incident last week when a large black bear walked across the runway. It's an unusual reason to do a rejected takeoff. But, if you hit a bear when he stands up on his hind legs and ….it's going to make a dent in your aircraft. So I love to put a fence around the field and add some length length to the runway. I’d also put in some public hangars so that people can protect their their planes too. That's always a bit of a problem in our part of the world.
But for the hangar itself, it doesn't have to be terribly big, let's say that we're building it for a Bombardier Global. Your suggested amount of $100 million would be far more than is needed. But what I would like to do and it's something that we're passionate about at Camber, as we invest in STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics). And there's an innovative school here called Coast Mountain Academy, and we run a program for their grade sevens and eights where we actually teach aerodynamics and their engineering classes we teach about airplanes how they fly and how an engine works. We've built a little wind tunnel and the kids build different shaped aero-foils and we see how wings react. We have a big paper airplane contest where kids go for distance, endurance and coolness effect. I think coolness is always cool because the kids come up to me and say what's cool and I say I have almost no hair left on my head and I don't know what's cool. You've got to know what's cool so the kids compete, and at the end of it, the top point third winners, they get to sit in the left seat for the first flying lesson, the other two kids sit in the back and we actually rent a bunch of Cessna’s here locally, and we do three dimensional navigation so geocaching around Squamish over the mountains and, and over the sound and the kids have a blast doing that
So with that hanger we would put wind tunnels that we've got right now. Maybe a classroom, maybe a couple of engines that are torn down so that we could take local school kids bring them here and give them some of those sessions so that we can spark that enthusiasm for perhaps getting into some of the technology trades, becoming a pilot or an engineer or flight attendant.
Tom, once again, as with all the others, that was a great answer.Thank You so much for your time, its 6pm on a Friday for me here in Basel, so i will continue with my G&T. I know in Squamish you have a few more hours to go, so enjoy that coffee, and I wish you, the rest of the team and your family a great weekend.