When they launched at the start of 2020, 26AVIATION didn’t know what was around the corner. Then the pandemic hit, covid cases were sky-high and flights were grounded, and founder Sam Heather had to think fast to keep his cargo business above board. Fast forward a year and a half (as they say, time flies…) and 26AVIATION has grown rapidly from a small start-up to a multi-million dollar company. This week we checked in with Sam and found out a bit more about who 26AVIATION are.
Hi Sam! Can you tell me a little bit about 26AVIATION?
26AVIATION is a cargo charter specialist, and we provide aircraft carrying cargo to customers around the world. In our first year we have focused primarily on the transportation of Coronavirus related medical equipment such as PPE test kits and vaccines. Last year we actually started the business under a completely different business model which was focusing on supporting airlines with aircraft charter solutions. However, due to the pandemic, we adapted, rebranded and remodelled the business and so far we’ve been getting involved in a lot of pandemic related cargo.
How else were you affected by COVID-19?
It’s completely different to how it was when we started. I incorporated the business in January 2020 and the focus would have been on supporting airlines with charter solutions, moving aircraft spare parts as well as crew and engineers around. However, we pretty quickly realised that was going to be an unsustainable business model due to the Coronavirus situation. I remodelled the business towards the latter stages of 2020 so that we could offer charter solutions across a broad range of cargo types and we’ve been involved in several different charter projects involving Coronavirus related cargo. We’ve also been transporting other types of cargo like aerospace parts, automotive parts, and energy related industries such as oil and gas equipment. It’s been a really eventful year.
What has been your biggest challenge so far?
I would say that pretty much everything has been a huge challenge. Since the beginning, I can’t think of an area of the business which has been easy. Before 26AVIATION I was a charter broker for a large corporate organisation and then I moved on to become a commercial director for a private jet operator; all of these areas focused a lot on maximising sales and improving commercial figures, however working for large corporates meant I was always able to fall back on support from different departments. Since I started my own business, I’ve actually had nothing to fall back on and have essentially had to work it all out by myself: I’m wearing all the hats of the business, be it HR, marketing, accounts, legal and IT. The biggest challenge for me has definitely been those functions of the business which I’ve got very little experience in and I’ve had to teach myself how to do.
What has been your biggest success so far?
The air charter business is highly competitive. Historically it has been controlled by global corporate companies and there are a few very large, powerful organisations out there. As well as this, charters are a highly valuable mode of transport. Large charters can cost upwards of half a million dollars, easily pushing on towards a million dollars just for one single flight. As a new company entering the market it has definitely been a success to be involved in such high value charters, against such stiff competition: for example we’ve done a number of charter flights which have cost in excess of $500,000. It has also been great to be entrusted with the customer’s money and their cargo as such a new company. I would say that that’s testament to our experience and our capabilities. So one of the biggest successes for us is completing those jobs successfully, and showing the customers that we have the capacity to be able to provide those types of solutions.
What are your plans for the future?
Since last year we focused almost exclusively on the cargo market, for the obvious reason that the demand is so high at the moment that it makes sense. However, cargo is typically seasonal and does fall under busy or quiet periods. Our plan going forward will be to develop a private jet division as this will give us a year-round revenue stream. While there’s a seasonal demand for cargo in the winter, the private jet market is typically a lot busier in the in the summer months due to leisure activity.
What brought you to Sussex Innovation?
I first came to this office just before we launched in the beginning of 2020. When I launched the business, I secured a small start-up loan from a company who were based in Sussex Innovation Croydon. The first thing I thought was that the location is great, that there’s great views and that it would be really nice to have an office here one day. Of course, we weren’t in a position at the time to have an office of such a size back then, but once we outgrew our very small office that I had just down the road, my first initial thought was to get an office here. I had a really good feeling about it.
Finally, what is your favourite thing about working here at Sussex Innovation?
What attracted me initially was the location, it’s setting the foundations for us to build a team and it’s important to be based in a really attractive and exciting area that is up-and-coming, with great transport links too. Then I realised that the offices were provided by Sussex Innovation, which came with a load of other benefits. The support that’s available to us has been incredible. There are a number of different business functions that we need help on, on an ad hoc basis, and to know that I’ve got that type of support available to us whenever we need is really critical to allow us to focus on what we need to focus on.
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