Gama Aviation wants to disrupt the UK HEMS market

Gama Aviation, the charter and management company probably best known for its business jet services, has invested £20m into launching a helicopter air ambulance arm to ‘disrupt the duopoly’ of the UK’s helicopter emergency medical services (HEMS) operations.

The management company and aircraft operator has taken delivery of three identical-spec Airbus H145s in a HEMS configuration and is believed to be placing them on an existing (fixed-wing) contract with the Scottish Ambulance Service in June. Two of the three helicopters will be flying EMS missions and the third will be the relief aircraft.

Gama Aviation MD for European air, Mark Gascoigne, claims the company is well positioned to break into the small but stable UK HEMS market as it has a 30-year history supporting EMS missions with fixed-wing contracts and a strong financial standing.

“We are not a big conglomerate with a lot of interests in a lot of different markets, neither are we are a private company that might not have the necessary finding infrastructure,” Gascoigne told Helicopter Investor at the company’s headquarters at Farnborough Airport on March 2nd. “I think we strike a good balance between the two to come in and disrupt the duopoly of the UK HEMS market.”

The UK HEMS market is dominated by two major operators – Babcock and Specialist Aviation Services (SAS). Gama is focusing on this market to provide an alternative and has already been approached by other trusts to bid for HEMS contracts, according to Gascoigne.

The three helicopters were purchased on December 24th 2018 using proceeds from a £20m term loan from HSBC according to an SEC Filing. This was in addition to the company’s existing credit facility with the bank. Gama plans to deploy the helicopters by June 1st 2020.

‘Rotary ambitions’

Whilst Gama is focusing specifically on UK HEMS missions, it is also considering branching out into other missions once it is established in HEMS operations.

“From HEMS, we are looking to broaden the scale of our rotary ambitions and look at other onshore capabilities and even might start to look offshore,” Duncan Daines, chief marketing officer of Gama Aviation told Helicopter Investor.

Gascoigne notes that moving into operating VIP helicopters would be a natural next step. As Gama already manages and operates a large business jet fleet on behalf of customers, it is a market in which the company already has a stake.

“A proportion of our [business jet] customer base also owns helicopters, therefore, there is definitely a case for us to manage and operate them as well,” Gascoigne said.

It is already preparing its H145s for other missions in the future. Gama has equipped the three new aircraft with winches, to offer greater mission versatility if the need should arise.

Helicopter Investor Insight

Gama is well positioned to break into the civil helicopter market. The company has held an Air Operator’s Certificate (AOC) for helicopter operations in the UK for about 30 years and already has a strong history of supporting both parapublic and private contracts with its fixed-wing fleet.

Also, breaking into the helicopter operations market with a low-risk parapublic contract with fixed terms has ensured easy access to funding. As a publicly-listed company with a revolving credit history, Gama is better positioned to secure funding than many of its smaller contemporaries in the civil helicopter market.

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