Investors in Air Partner PLC (LON:AIRP) had to belt up last year as the plane charter and consultancy group ran into heavy turbulence.
An accounting review in April kickstarted a complete overhaul of the £48mln, main market-listed business.
The group had identified an issue relating to its accounting for deferred income in previous financial results, which led to an internal investigation.
It has now appointed new auditors and a new chief financial officer, as well as a new chairman, a new chair of audit, a new head of the charter arm, a new head of the consulting & training division, and a new head of HR.
One constant throughout this period was chief executive Mark Briffa, who is now confident that Air Partner is back on track again and entering calmer skies.
Results for the year to January 2019 showed revenues rising by 4.6% to £273mln while underlying profits were flat at £5.8mln, which looked a reasonable performance given the backdrop.
There was a £1.3mln charge for the accounting review, which reduced statutory profits to £3.4mln.
Going forward, the aim is to generate organic growth Briffa told Proactive, which will be helped by one unified Air Partner brand to encompass the consulting & training and charter businesses.
Each will retain their separate identity, but visibly be part of the group.
The idea is to leverage the customer base between charter and consulting & training.
“There is a common thread (air transport). Customers supplied by one subsidiary can be serviced by the other and vice versa.”
It’s not doing it already, he says, because it has taken a time to get acquisitions like 2015’s Baines Simmons into the PLC mindset but with the re-brand the pace should pick up.
US and freight going well
On trading, Briffa says there has been good progress in the US and freight charter operations, with a little growth in commercial jets.
Private jets (1-19 people) have also been good in the US, though flat in the UK and Europe - possibly the result of Brexit uncertainty, says Briffa.
In the US, the number of JetCards – think Oyster card but with larger amounts of money - is now on a par with the UK.
Eventually, Briffa wants to see Air Partner emerge as a full aviation services operation.
“We are not just a brokerage anymore.”
That will mean adding more capability and bolt-on acquisitions, especially in consulting & training, but also building market share.
Air Partner does not have any retainers with plane owners, just a very good database of where there all are in the world at any one moment.
The US is one area targeted for expansion as in spite of its recent progress market share there is barely above 3%.
Freight, too, is likely to grow.
A global economic downturn would not help Air Partner’s ambitions, though Briffa is convinced high net worths will continue to fly whatever.
There is also no shortage of sports teams jetting around the world and the appointment of former UK Athletics boss Ed Warner as new chairman will presumably help here.
Solid income also comes from contracts with the NHS, staff repatriation, relief flights and even the press plane that follows President Trump around the world, which is chartered by Air Partner.
Dividend payments have also been a constant theme and have risen consistently since 2010.
At 90p, the shares are yielding 6.2% currently, while the company had net cash at the last year- end and on an underlying basis the dividend was covered a comfortable 1.7 times.
Online not proven
Briffa adds the company is not just a UK business and is well spread around the world – offices were opened in Singapore and Houston earlier this year, following the opening of a Los Angeles office last year.
Online is one area where Air Partner has yet to make any determined push as Briffa is yet to be convinced the model works despite big sums being invested into start-ups and hefty price tags on deals.
“We are a traditional broker, offering an extremely high-end and personalised service, and at the moment that is not a bad place to be.”