Saving lives, all in a day’s work for Bond boss
- Credit: © Thousand Word Media
Bond Aviation Group is one of the world’s leading providers of mission critical helicopter support for life, rescue, safety and energy support services. Staverton-based Bond Air Services is the largest operator of air ambulance aircraft in the UK.
Bond Aviation Group is well known in Gloucestershire. First founded in the 1960s it grew to be one of the top commercial helicopter operators in the world and currently employs around 200 at its Staverton headquarters on Gloucestershire Airport. In 2011 it was sold to private equity-owned World Helicopters (now Avincis Group), which bought both Bond Air Services, based at Staverton Airport and Bond Offshore Helicopters in Aberdeen. Just days before we went to press, it was announced that Avincis is itself being bought by Babcock International Group.
Peter Rogers, Chief Executive of Babcock, said: “The proposed acquisition of Avincis meets Babcock’s strategic objectives as it brings into the Babcock group a market-leading business, delivering mission critical services and complex engineering support to blue-chip customers in multiple geographies. Avincis already has a strong growth platform and its combination with Babcock will generate even greater expansion opportunities and value creation for Babcock’s shareholders.” Bond is now one of the world’s leading providers of mission-critical helicopter support for life, rescue, safety and energy support services. Staverton-based Bond Air Services is the largest operator of air ambulance aircraft in the UK.
The man responsible for the Staverton operation is Richard Mintern who joined around 18 months ago as CEO Northern Europe and Asia Pacific.
He gives me a tour of the facility, the same tour he gave the Chancellor of the Exchequer, George Osborne, when he dropped in to check up on his investment: in 2013 the Government granted Bond Aviation a loan to release cash flow to grow the business. This includes Bond investing millions in new helicopters, hiring and training staff and expanding across the UK.
The tour included viewing a charity air ambulance undergoing a regular service, meeting pilots taking time out from a session in the on-site flight simulator and visiting the control room where staff log each air ambulance and track their progress. Bond Aviation is responsible for operating charity air ambulances in ten regions across the UK.
Richard had a tough introduction to his new job from his previous role as Chief Operating Officer at Monarch Airlines. “Almost as soon as I joined, one of our Bond Offshore Helicopters pilots ditched his helicopter in the North Sea. No-one was seriously injured and all 14 passengers and crew got to land safely.”
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However the accident, subsequently found to be due to an aircraft design issue which has since been managed, underlined what Richard had been brought in to do: To secure the business as it stood then grow it safely, efficiently and profitably. “Standards in aviation are very high. There are CAA standards, oil and gas industry standards, which are higher and we have our own standards above that,” explains Richard. “I care about every single person that flies on our aircraft, so for me safety is the top priority.”
“Each of the companies I manage have gone through a 100-day programme since I arrived,” explains Richard. “It took millions of pounds of investment and we looked at the systems and processes and put in KPIs that didn’t exist before, upgrading the business.”
Staverton-based Bond Aviation turns over around £50 million annually. Its bigger sister company, Bond Offshore Helicopters, turns
over around £200 million. Richard is also responsible for Norsk Helicopters in Norway, Australian Helicopters and Bond Helicopters Australia. He has 65 helicopters in his region and plans to grow Bond Offshore by 40% this year as new opportunities arise in the sector.
Sadly one of those won’t be the UK’s Search and Rescue service. Last year Bristow Helicopters won the 10-year contract to run the UK’s search and rescue operations, taking over from the RAF and Royal Navy which has run the service for 70 years. Bond Offshore came second in the tender process, but Richard is pragmatic. “It is a shame that the contract didn’t go to a UK organisation but I do think that Bristow won it on merit. We got darn close and are a serious threat to them in the future. It was a significant investment for us to tender, we had 50-60 people working on the project, including highly qualified advisers, but we are well prepared now and will, without doubt, win a search and rescue contract somewhere else.”
At Staverton, Bond Air Services is focused on providing the best possible service to the charity air ambulance services it supports, because there are changes afoot here as well. “The UK Government is talking about establishing major trauma centres, which could mean more flying of passengers from an incident to the larger centres. Whatever they decide it will mean a change in the way the charity air ambulances operate and that means a change at Bond Aviation too.
Coming from the corporate environment of Monarch airlines, this is Richard’s first experience of working closely with charitable concerns, and he’s very impressed.
“Despite reports that charitable giving has dropped, Air Ambulance charities seem to be holding up with regard to donations,” he says. “Perhaps because what they offer is visible and saves lives, people are prepared to keep giving. We are commercial organisation but we are producing a high quality product at a fair price to the charities, and have done it for a long time without really changing the way we do it. At the same time we are investing more.”
Bond Air Services is also looking at other ways to diversify, including working with the planned National Police Aviation Service (NPAS), which the government wants to provide a more cohesive service than each police service operating its own helicopter service. Bond already maintains two UK police helicopters, and the NPAS would offer economies of scale to the British taxpayer, says Richard. “Globally we have 320 helicopters and have buying power with manufacturers that the police service doesn’t have. We would invest in 20 helicopters and sell them a cost-effective operation and service.”
Air ambulance services run very differently across the world. In the UK, the NHS employs the paramedics. In Spain, Bond’s sister company INAER trains and supplies them to the Spanish Government, which Bond could do in the UK. Funding also changes depending on the country. The UK’s service is charity-based but in Scotland it is largely government funded. In Australia it’s a mix of around 80% government, 20% charity funded.
“We can’t rest on our laurels for a second,” says Richard. “This year, for instance, to achieve the growth planned we have to find 300 employees. That will be a big challenge for us, particularly finding engineers. We will either invest in our own academies or work with training providers.
“I support apprenticeships, after all I was one. We have apprentices here at Staverton and will take on more because it’s a passion of mine. Too many kids are going to university, and I say that as my brother-in -law is the Vice Chancellor of UWE in Bristol. There are many kids now who would make great plumbers, mechanics or electricians, which is much more vocational and they don’t have to do a degree to achieve. I went to University later and it suited me, doing a degree then an MBA even later, when I had good practical skills. I am afraid we have made a mistake as a generation in not paying enough attention to vocational training, but it needs to come from the top. Government is doing more in this area, but there also needs to be even more incentive for business.”
For Richard, job satisfaction comes through his people. “Since I started with Bond, three members of the Staverton staff have gone on to build their careers in the wider business. I have also found the more senior I have got, the less important I am, in that my key role is that of facilitation. I have five MDs reporting to me, and yes I have a level of governance to perform, but if I give them everything they need to do their job well, we will be successful. We all have targets and know what we should be doing, but beyond that there is the human element. Seeing the business grow and people move up in their careers is a good feeling. Sharing a beer with them, there is a genuine feeling of the desire to do well.”
Statement from Bond Air Services on the Glasgow accident
“Bond Air Services was and is devastated by the terrible accident that happened in Glasgow on Friday 29 November and their thoughts continue to be with the families, colleagues and friends of those who have lost their lives or been touched by the tragedy. We are deeply grateful to the men and women of the emergency services for their tireless work following the tragedy, and to the people of Glasgow, who demonstrated immense courage and commitment to helping the injured. Our crews provide a vital service to the community and we are committed to supporting the investigation into this incident. We, like everyone affected, want to know exactly what happened. We do, however, recognise that this will be a complex process which will take time to complete.”
This article is from the May 2014 issue of Business & Professional Life