FAI Rent-A-Jet (IFA, Nuremberg) is planning to replace its current fleet of Bombardier Business Aircraft Challenger 604s with newer 605s, and its Learjet 60s with 60XRs, founder and chairman Siegfried Axtmann told ch-aviation in an interview at EBACE in Geneva. It is also looking to place a part of its fleet on another register in the future.

The German air ambulance specialist currently runs six Challenger 604s and five Learjet 60s. It has no plans to order new aircraft and is currently in "permanent market research" for 10 to 15-year-old pre-owned aircraft. The rollover will proceed gradually with no fixed timeline for the retirement of the current fleet.

"In air ambulance, the year of manufacture does not count. But we try to keep the fleet's average age around 20 years, we have one of the youngest fleets [in the air ambulance segment]," Axtmann said.

The rationale for renewing the Learjets is their declining dispatch reliability, which "goes dramatically down" as the aircraft age. In turn, the Challengers are nearing their heavy 7,800-landing gear inspection threshold due to their constant use.

FAI is not exploring any other types for its air ambulance business due to the Challengers' and Learjet's optimal performance. Axtmann emphasised that the aircraft need to be able to operate with one fuel stop to West Africa, an important market for patient repatriation flights.

Bombardier Global plans

Despite its focus on the medevac segment, FAI is also present in the charter market with its fleet of five Global Express jets. Axtmann said that one of them could be converted into an air ambulance, but the demand for such large business jets in this market segment is low and no more than 10% of the type's total operations are for patient repatriation.

The Challengers and Learjets are dedicated to air ambulance operations and do not fly passenger charters.

FAI Rent-A-Jet is currently looking to acquire a Global 6000 nearing its 10-year heavy maintenance. The German operator and MRO services provider plans to refurbish the business jet and eventually sell it, though it is also open to operating it. Given that the type debuted in 2012, Axtmann expects a large number of suitable aircraft to be available on the market soon.

"We are not looking for a quick sale. We will have to wait until a buyer comes along who is motivated to acquire the aircraft. Buying at the lowest price - that's our business, but we're not playing the role of the seller at the lowest price," he said.

Tthrough its subsidiary FAI Technik, FAI Rent-A-Jet has done similar deals in the past, including Global Express "Project Pearl" D-AFAL (msn 9016), which it acquired in 2019. After a complete cabin overhaul and mandatory maintenance checks, the aircraft entered FAI's charter fleet in 2020, operated around 800 charter hours, and was then sold to Planet Nine Private Air in late 2021.

Market and regulatory environment

FAI Rent-A-Jet bases its aircraft out of Nuremberg, Germany headquarters but virtually all of its air ambulance missions are outside the country. It has just a handful of customers in the country, and the majority of flights are not even to or from Europe. It specialises in long- and ultra-long-distance patient repatriation and operates most of its flights between continents, serving the Middle East, Africa, Asia, North America, and Europe.

"We use the Challengers for the intercontinental patient repatriation, while the Learjets can fly with one fuel stop between Asia, the Middle East, Africa, and Europe," Axtmann explained.

The operator flies for insurance companies, government agencies, and NGOs, although Axtmann stressed that the air ambulance market is fiercely competitive. Even when the operator has a framework agreement with a specific customer, it still needs to participate in bidding auctions for each individual repatriation flight.

Given Germany's high corporate taxation and employment obligations, as well as the low number of flight operations that touch the country, FAI is now considering moving a part of its fleet to another register.

"We will not give up our Germany base, but a part of our fleet has to be flagged out," Axtmann said.

Maintenance and supply chain issues

The air ambulance business accounts for almost 40% of FAI Aviation Group's revenues, charters 30%, and maintenance and parts sales around 25%. FAI Technik has its own maintenance facilities at Nuremberg and Berlin Brandenburg International. While in the past it used to perform checks only for its own fleet, currently some 70% of maintenance work is now for third-party customers.

Despite the industry's rampant supply chain issues, FAI Rent-A-Jet has reduced its exposure thanks to its in-house maintenance capabilities and parts warehouse. The operator retains its retired aircraft for parts when they near their heavy maintenance limits. Axtmann revealed that FAI has two Challengers, two Learjets, and one Global Express parted out in stock.

"Even the OEMs and the maintenance programme providers are our clients; they are buying parts from us. There is a simple reason for the lack of a supply chain: the fleet is ageing, aircraft are flying longer, and the manufacturers of the parts for these aircraft gave up machining them because the aircraft are out of production," Axtmann revealed.

The operator's strategy of parting out its own retired aircraft has thus locked it into the current fleet types. The Challenger 605 shares most parts with the 604 and the Learjet 60XR with the 60, allowing FAI to continue operating them for at least the next 10-15 years.

"We have a huge inventory of parts for our current aircraft types. So it really would have to be a great opportunity to consider replacing one of these aircraft with another type. Our options would then be limited to reselling the stock to a third party; they could not be used on our own aircraft anymore. We would have to build up a stock for the new aircraft type, which is a huge investment," Axtmann said.

The operator briefly considered replacing the Learjets with Embraer Phenom 300s but gave up due to the spares issue.

A more pressing constraint is workforce availability. FAI Technik has a shortage of engineers and problems finding new ones due to the retirement of experienced workers and competition from large MRO companies. However, as a family-owned business with quick decision-making processes coupled with its personal approach to staffing, FAI has maintained high staff loyalty, even though slow hiring has hampered its expansion plans, Axtmann said.