by Guillaume Lecompte-Boinet - AIN
European air-taxi operators Wijet and Blink are joining forces to offer a combined fleet of 15 Cessna Citation Mustang very light jets. In a deal announced on September 28, France’s Wijet is acquiring Blink, which has bases in the UK and Italy, for an undisclosed amount to create a new company called Wijet Group that will market its charter capacity through the OpenJet online booking platform.
The new operation will be jointly managed by co-CEOs Corentin Denoeud and Cameron Ogden (founders of Wijet and Blink, respectively). The company says it expects to have combined 2016 revenue of around €18 million ($19.9 million). Despite a largely flat European charter market, the partners are projecting that combined revenue will grow by just over 55 percent next year, to €28 million ($31.1 million). They estimate that the company will log 11,000 flights and carry 16,000 passengers next year.
Ogden insisted that this growth will be achieved through a mix of adding aircraft to the fleet and acquiring other European operators. The operational hub for the group will be the London-area Blackbushe Airport, which Blink jointly owns with outside investors.
In addition to offering charter capacity through OpenJet, Wijet Group will continue to work with brokers, largely through Avinode. Within six months, the partners expect to have a common website using OpenJet, which also serves as an operational management tool. The company has not ruled out using other online charter booking platforms to sell flights.
The current fleet consists of nine Mustangs operated by Blink and six by Wijet, which is headquartered at Paris Le Bourget Airport. Wijet has indicated it anticipates having a fleet of 50 aircraft by 2020 that might include between five and 10 larger jets seating six to eight passengers. However, Ogden’s preference is to stick to Citation Mustangs. Wijet reported that it is in the process of raising another €15 million ($16.5 million) to fund the planned acquisitions. Eventually, all the aircraft in the combined fleet will feature a new common livery.
Interestingly, given the uncertainty created by Britain’s June 23 Brexit vote to leave the European Union, all Wijet aircraft are to be registered under Blink’s UK air operator certificate (AOC). This begs the question as to whether the operator would continue to enjoy cabotage rights for intra-EU flights if the pending deal between Britain and the EU does not reach agreement over all aspects of participation in Europe’s so-called single market. Ogden predicts cabotage rights for UK AOC holders will be preserved, while adding that in the worst case Wijet and Blink would be able to re-establish another AOC within the EU.
“This operation represents a formidable leap forward in our development,” said Denoeud. “In one step, it allows us to lift ourselves to another level, both in terms of our financial results and what we can offer our clients.”
One of the benefits for Wijet is that it now has access to the maintenance facility in Genoa, Italy, that Blink acquired when it bought local Mustang operator MyJet in May last year. The partners expect to achieve economies of scale for costs such as pilots and maintenance. They also anticipate a reduction in empty-leg flights, accounting for 18 percent of total operations rather than the current 25 percent.
The owners of Wijet and Blink (which launched at the height of the last financial crisis, in 2009 and 2008, respectively) began talking about a possible merger in 2012. Denoeud maintains that the Brexit vote was not a major consideration in the Anglo-French deal, but does concede that the resulting collapse of the British pound on currency markets made the acquisition price less costly in euros.