Comlux Making Aircraft Available in Crisis for At-cost Charter

 - April 23, 2020, 8:02 AM
Comlux's 777 carried 20 tonnes of medical freight from Shanghai to Indianapolis earlier this month.

Once Comlux Aviation completed the initial flurry of repatriation activity for its clients in March, the company turned to opportunities for its aircraft to support Covid-19 relief activities, according to Andrea Zanetto, CEO of Zurich-based Comlux Aviation. “We know our clients are now staying safely at home—in fact, we brought them home in March, which was quite intense. So today we’re looking for opportunities for our aircraft—keeping our assets flying.”

By April 23, when AIN spoke to Zanetto, the company was highlighting two successful operations with its aircraft. The first used its Boeing BBJ 777-200LR VIP-configured airliner named “Crystal Skye” and often referred to in media coverage as “the world’s largest luxury charter jet.”

“Our 777 especially is great for cargo and has excellent range capabilities.” This is particularly the case as the cargo it carried from Shanghai to Indianapolis earlier this month was not heavy, just “voluminous,” being 20 tonnes of medical freight, said Zanetto. That meant it could take maximum fuel for the 13-hour flight.

“It’s very simple to transport this type of cargo,” he added, “and we got approved [by China’s CAAC] in a very short time.” Zanetto said flights can usually be arranged within 24 hours and authorities around the world “are being very responsive and helpful to aviation.”

A bonus in the Indianapolis flight was that Comlux’s employees at its completion center there had not seen the 777 before.

“The other flight was a regular flight in Kazakhstan using our Sukhoi Business Jet, as we have a base in Almaty. This was to transport experts coming from China to train personnel fighting against Covid-19,” he added.

Zanetto said Comlux, which has nine offices around the world and a fleet of 11 aircraft, is now “looking for other opportunities—and our policy is to operate ‘at cost.’” He sees cargo, especially medical cargo, as the area with the most demand at the moment, meaning the group’s larger aircraft can play their part. “We also have a [Boeing] 767 which has been used mainly for head-of-state transport, which we have done a lot of in the past two months, but now it’s more available and can be used for cargo. And also we have the [Airbus] ACJs, which are good for transporting people.”

Meanwhile, he admits that the company’s smaller aircraft, a Bombardier Challenger 605 and Global 6000, haven’t seen much activity in recent weeks. The advantage of the 767/777 is it’s easier to social distance. “We got approval for the crew in China to sleep onboard the aircraft. It has 88 beds, like a hotel,” Zanetto said.

There were no infections of the crew and passengers on the Shanghai to Indianapolis trip.

Of the pilots and crew, he said: “They knew their mission and act like medical staff in a hospital—they are in the field.” He noted after being difficult to adapt initially, the protocols are now known for operating during the Covid-19 crisis. “The risk is very, very, very contained—there were no infections of the crew and passengers [on that trip]. We really have to honor the crews, even though I think the operations are now very safe.”

Like many others in business aviation, Zanetto predicts that private aircraft will prove popular “as we come out of this crisis” as measures such as social distancing will be in place for a long time. He expects May to provide opportunities for the company’s aircraft to help while June is likely to see a recovery in demand, as customers return—some wanting to avoid airlines and main airport terminals.

“Humanity has to understand this will not go away in the short term so we have to find a solution in the short term to keep the world moving on,” reflected Zanetto. “We’re sure about the attraction of private aviation—many will choose to take a private jet and stay safer.” He also suggested increased demand for aircraft with more seats than typical in such aircraft, so private groups could travel together, and that there would be a decrease in prices “to allow more people to fly.”

For example, as sports teams start moving again, even if competing only in front of TV audiences, he predicts more will choose to fly privately. However, Comlux does not currently plan to have its own coronavirus testing facilities. “We have not gone through that as we believe it’s for the authorities in each country. But we do ensure the cabin is fully sanitized.”

Zanetto said that for agencies wanting to explore the possibilities of using Comlux’s aircraft, which he admits might only be for the next few weeks in this capacity. “The message is to just contact us. Sometimes things don’t seem possible but in certain circumstances, a no becomes a yes. We have seen many flights like that—so contact us and we’ll try to make it happen. It’s a temporary approach for the next few weeks while we’re getting ready to go back to full speed. It’s a window of opportunity.”