60 years of aviation

Wednesday, November 17, 2021

As we celebrate 60 years of delivering the extraordinary to you, our valued clients; we take a look through the decades at how aviation and Air Partner have evolved.  

60’s      The swinging 60s is when it all began………Airways Training Air Training School (Air Partner as it is now known) is formed in 1961 at Gatwick’s historic Beehive terminal. Founded by Tony Mack Senior we originally started out retraining ex-military pilots for civilian careers using small, twin engine aircraft and basic flight simulators for this purpose.  

Private Jets began to feature more prominently in motion pictures as cinema-goers enjoyed Pussy Galore, played by the delectable Honor Blackman, piloting a Lockheed Jetstar whilst flying James Bond in the classic, Goldfinger. For 1964, a Lockheed Jetstar was considered state of the art. Marking the dawn of the era of the business jet, with it’s capacity of 10 passengers and 3 crew it was considered positively spacious compared to air taxis of the time like the two seater Piper Club and the four seater Cessna Airmaster. One of the largest aircraft for in its class for many years, the Lockheed Jetstar is distinguishable from other business jets by its four engines mounted at the rear of the fuselage.  

70’s In a decade renowned for its fun fashion, Saturday Night Fever and cultural change, we continued to go from strength to strength. The increasing demand for our air taxi service resulted in us adding a range of twin piston engine propeller aircraft including Aztec, Twin Comanche, Beagle and Chieftan to our fleet. However with demand often outstripping supply we often subcontracted other airlines aircraft in order to keep our regular clients satisfied.  

The British built HS125 was a popular choice of this era renowned for its best-in-class cabin space and performance. Although British built it proved most popular with North American clients with this market providing more than 60% of total sales of this particular aircraft. Two iconic brits who were fans of the type were none other than screen legends Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton. Standing cabin headroom, a proper washroom and flight attendant service ensured it remained popular even as faster Learjets entered the scene.  

In the latter part of the 60s, we formed an air taxi operation with a small fleet of twin propeller air taxis. At this time the company name was changed to Air London to reflect the change in business focus. Popular with business leaders and major stars of the day, Hollywood icons Bing Crosby and Katharine Hepburn both chartered our Beagle aircraft from Gatwick to mainland Europe.  

80’s  With the financial Big Bang revolutionising London’s fortunes and turning it into a financial capital to rival New York, it’s no wonder the 80s saw a huge period of growth for Air Partner. In the early 1980s we launched a new concept in charter broking, moving to a full-time charter broker and introducing our Group Charter and Freight divisions, and investing in a bespoke aircraft locator database, considered unique at the time. After three decades as a family owned business Air London as it was then known, floated on the stock exchange becoming the only air charter company publicly listed which is still the case today.  

With the financial market booming, many companies began offering extravagant incentives to team members including helicopters to attend the British Grand Prix. Such was the popularity of conference and incentive trips, we introduced a specialist team specifically to serve this booming market. The DC-10 was one of our most popular aircraft during this time, used to arrange a number of group trips to the Caribbean for top achieving sales people from insurance and finance firms.  

For most people you cannot mention aviation in the 80s without discussing the icon of the industry for that decade – Concorde. With the majority of premium business travellers using Concorde for their Trans-Atlantic journeys, we found a niche in the market, booking aircraft to connect with Concorde at both JFK and Heathrow airports. The high performance Learjet 35 was a firm favourite of clients in a hurry to get to their final destination after their Trans-Atlantic trip.  

90’s Although now hard to imagine life without it, the 90s advanced the tech landscape, forever changing it with the introduction of the World Wide Web.  As a decade of overall growth, the 90s also witnessed the introduction of the ultra-long range Gulfstream 5 and Global Express to the charter market, enabling private jet passengers to fly nonstop from London to popular destinations such as Singapore and Cape Town. 

We continued to expand as a business, opening European offices in Paris and Cologne and our first US office in Fort Lauderdale. With a greater global presence, a more all-encompassing name was required, as a result Air Partner was born. Airline entrepreneur and friend of the company, Freddie Laker, opened our new Gatwick headquarters.   
Global events brought new challenges, most noticeably the Gulf War which caused international travel to decrease by around 30%. With the military’s airlift capacity stretched, our Freight and Group Charter departments work alongside them to move fighter jet spares and military personnel. Simultaneously our Air Evacuation Department assist multinational corporations in repatriating workers and their dependents living near the conflict zone safely back to Europe.   

Closer to home, London City airport extended its runway and proved attractive to the nearby merchant banks. The Dassault Falcon 50 with its 3 engines and advanced wing design was ideal for the steep approach path. The financial experts and their clients on board appreciated its large baggage hold as they travelled around Europe’s investment capitals.   

2000'sAs we enter a new century and ‘tweets’ and ‘likes’ become part of our daily lives with the introduction of social media, we bid a sad farewell to Concorde as it disappeared from our skies for the very last time on 24th October 2003. An increasing number of new ultra-long range aircraft enter the charter market throughout the noughties that (nearly!) match the appeal of the iconic Concorde, although it’s safe to say passionate aviation experts will always hold Concorde in high regard.  

The Boeing Business Jet and Airbus Corporate Jet are two such long range aircraft that enter the market in this decade. Luxurious long range versions of the 737 and A319, these two aircraft in particular prove popular with government VVIPs and stars of music and film. The airliner size cabin, the master bedroom and a washroom with showers as standard prove most appealing. The separate conference/dining room and living area function as perfect offices in the sky and an ideal environment for a lengthy tour for popular music stars of the decade. For A-listers promoting iconic movies of the time such as Lord of the Rings and the Pirates of the Caribbean, promo tours became much less of a chore travelling from premier to premier with the ultimate comfort in the sky.   

For us at Air Partner, the noughties witnessed the launch of our private jet membership programme - JetCard. As business jet travellers became more sophisticated with their private aviation needs and required maximum flexibility and reliability, the JetCard provided extra peace of mind alongside a personalised, bespoke service.  

2010's As we enter the most recent decade in our history, it’s easy to see the aviation landscape continues to adapt to changing market conditions and priorities. With sustainability at the forefront of both individual and corporations minds, the average age of a business jet drops as new models are phased in to meet stricter environmental regulations. The Lear 75 and Legacy 500 provide passengers with their first flights on quiet, fuel efficient aircraft at the start of the decade. Later in the decade we launched our carbon offsetting scheme to give businesses and individuals the opportunity to give back by offsetting their carbon emissions.  

Love it or hate it, the 2010s introduced the capability to be connected even from the highest heights with on-board internet access made available in private jets and later in select commercial jets. For those with busy lifestyles, particularly our corporate travellers, onboard connectivity became the number one item on passengers’ wish list. On the leisure side, as private flights to destinations such as the Maldives, the Seychelles and the Caribbean became more popular, Gulfstream and Bombardier raise the bar to meet this demand with the introduction of the ultra long range Gulfstream 650 and Global 7500 to provide the ultimate comfort and performance.  

 We expanded our product offering even further in recent times and the Safety and Security division of Air Partner was added to our portfolio with the acquisition of Baines Simmons, SafeSkys and Redline Assured Security. As a result of our continuous growth, we moved into our current head quarters near the Old Beehive Terminal building at Gatwick airport.  

It’s safe to say, nobody could have predicted how this decade would end with the Covid-19 pandemic changing the landscape of aviation forever. Whatever future challenges face us, we are certain we can adapt and grow and emerge stronger. We thank you for your continued support and we look forward to another 60 years of delivering the extraordinary.  

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