Jet Aviation Group
Peter G. Edwards is CEO of the Jet Aviation Group, a multi-faceted business jet service company based in Zurich, Switzerland, that provides a spectrum of services, from jet card programs to charter to maintenance to aircraft completions.
His aviation experience spans 28 years, including senior positions at prestigious aviation organizations such as Gulfstream and Bombardier. Upon his departure from Bombardier as President of its Business Aircraft Division, Edwards managed an aviation business and strategy consultancy practice and serves as an Executive Advisor for Supersonic Aerospace International LLC, a company dedicated to developing a supersonic business aircraft and making quiet supersonic flight a reality in the 21st century. Edwards is a Graduate of the University of Southern California’s School of International Relations, and has served on the board of many key industry organizations, including GAMA and NBAA.
ET: You have a long and storied career in the private aviation business. Can you tell us a little bit about your background, how you got into the business, your career path, and what led you to where you are today?
Peter Edwards: Well, I view my initial entry into the business as somewhat accidental. I had intended to pursue quite a different path, but I was drawn into aviation by the father of a college friend who was the then vice president for sales for Boeing for the Middle East. I was in school in Tunisia at the time, and he became interested in me and suggested that I come work for him following University. Initially, I declined. But when I left school, I gave him a call and entered the business through one of his companies. He was a great mentor in many ways, and I’ve been in the business ever since — through successive positions with Air Research, Gulfstream, Bombardier and onward. And here we are at Jet Aviation in a very exciting period.
ET: Can you give us an overview of Jet Aviation? It’s an interesting company; you’re involved in a lot of aspects of the business.
Peter Edwards: I feel we have assembled quite a unique business model for Jet Aviation and have evolved into the largest broad-based service provider in the industry. What’s important, however, is the way that our model works, with multiple lines of business that are very well positioned, each in its own right. It’s the way that they work together and feed each other and that constitutes our real strength. Our portfolio of businesses — completions, maintenance, aircraft management, aircraft services, FBO operations and charter all interrelate. On a standalone basis these are all important, but when you put them together they create platforms from which you can do many, many things. And that’s been key component of our formula for success. We have expanded aggressively into new geographies and have been able to use our approach to establish infrastructure to support business aviation, where such services and support were not previously available. In this way we’ve become an enabler for the growth of business aviation in what may be considered nontraditional markets. We did the right things with the right model ahead of the primary expansion of this industry into the international arena.
ET: A lot of people who read our magazine and visit our website, they’re entrepreneurs, they’re interested in going into places like Russia and the Middle East. Any advice and tips for people who are looking to expand their businesses into places like that? Things that they should be aware of before they dive into these markets?
Peter Edwards: Well, there are many things to consider, of course, but I think what’s been important for us is that we do our homework. And there’s often a lot of homework to do. In an emerging market, it’s not a question of going in and leasing facilities, putting a few mechanics in place and just starting up. It can be an immensely complex undertaking from a legal, operational, regulatory and personnel standpoint. On the surface it may look relatively easy — at ground level it’s certainly not. But it’s one of our core competences: to understand what’s needed to go into a new environment and do the right level of planning.
ET: Could you speak a little bit about your acquisition by General Dynamics and what that’s going to mean for Jet Aviation?
Peter Edwards: With the transaction finally closed just this month, the first benefit is that we can set our resources and people again focused 100% on the business. A process like this is very time consuming and can represent quite a distraction. But overall, I think the most important change from the standpoint of our employees is that we now enter a period of long-term certainty about our ownership. That was extremely important to us. In retrospect I can say we had a very fruitful and successful term under Permira’s ownership. They invested heavily in the business, supported our business plan, our strategy, and our expansion requirements with capital. Together we were able to build what today is the modern Jet Aviation.
So as we now enter this new phase, the employees are clearly very happy to have an experienced aerospace leader as an owner and to have the question of ownership succession resolved in really the most favorable sort of way. I’m seeing a lot of smiles on faces in the hangars and in the hallways, so people are looking forward to the next chapter with enthusiasm.
ET: What have been the primary changes to the business aviation industry over the past 20 years?
Peter Edwards: So much has changed. I think the increased rate of investment in new model development by the OEM’s is just astounding. There are more derivatives and new model introductions than at any point in the history of the industry. When you launch a new model, even in a difficult market environment, buyers respond. If the characteristics of that product are compelling, that will precipitate sales activity. The products continue to evolve and add more value, more capability and greater reliability. So the product environment has changed immensely in the past 20 years.
There have been significant changes on the service side, as well. The industry and Jet Aviation in particular, has a much broader service footprint today. The ability to initiate long-term projects has improved, in part because we have greater visibility over where the aircraft are going and can make fact based investment decisions. And that gives us a long-term planning horizon that was not available in the industry even ten years ago. The industry has grown up and has become immensely important. Further I think that the rapid trend of globalization over the past two years has established a geographic business base that is much more sustainable. In the past our industry was very closely tied to the fortunes of the North American market. But today and in spite of collateral damage to international markets from the currents crises, we enjoy a much more even distribution, and a greater resilience against concentration of risks. This will mean more stability and better management through the cycle. So I think that a lot has changed quite favorably for this industry.
At the same time, the regulatory environment has become increasingly severe and burdensome. Everything takes more time, is more complex and more expensive to execute. The industry needs to continue to be diligent in pushing for a balanced and sensible regulatory environment if it is to realize its full potential.
ET: Any hobbies or passions or affinities outside of business?
Peter Edwards: Well, I think one of the things that the move from Canada to Switzerland has given us is a taller set of surrounding mountains in which we play. And as a family of skiers, we certainly appreciate that very much. We’re having a great time in Zurich. It’s a beautiful city and a beautiful country. And we feel like we’re in a postcard every time we leave our house. The opportunity to get out in this healthy environment to ski, play tennis and ride bicycles is really a treat. Two minutes from my home I’m in the midst of the farms and the cows — a far cry from Los Angeles, where I grew up.
ET: Any favorite ski retreats that you’d like to recommend to our elite travelers?
Peter Edwards: Well, we’re still exploring. We go to Klosters, near Davos as it’s convenient. It’s a little over an hour from the house and very, very nice. St. Moritz is a beautiful resort as well. We have a few more mountains to cover this year, and we’re looking forward to it. I’ll say this is the last season of our evaluation phase and then we’ll establish a more permanent presence in one of the resorts.
ET: If you hadn’t gotten into the private aviation business, what would you have seen yourself doing?
Peter Edwards: In University, I pursued a path in international relations with a Middle East emphasis. My intention was to go into law with that area of expertise. I did not pursue the legal dimension, but then went instead into aviation initially with the same geographic focus. It was an exciting area of business at the time, and one thing led to another. Once you get established in this field, it tens to take hold of you. And I think if anything probably drew me into the business and kept me there, it was meeting people with great personal stories and great histories. People that I admired immensely for their intelligence and their entrepreneurial spirit, and in some cases their courage. Sometimes I have an opportunity to sit down with people that are freshly minted in the business and talk about the industry as something that they should endeavor to understand — its origins and its unique nature. Because in aviation you’re stepping into something that’s quite special. And I try and encourage people to do that, and at the same time perhaps share a little bit of the history that I’ve observed personally. I think we have a privilege to be in an industry that is like no other.