FLIGHT DEPT PROFILE

Ceramica Cleopatra Group prepares for more Gulfstreams, Cirrus Vision SJ50s

Cairo-based industrial conglomerate operates Gulfstream G550 to promote ceramic tile, citrus fruit, hotel and media investments.


Dir Aviation/Chief Pilot Heimo Koncilia (L) and FO Michaela Plank relax aboard the G550 before departing GVA for SSH (Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt). Missions range from 20-min domestic legs to international stages in excess of 12 hrs.

"I flew the GIVSP for 3 years until my G550 was delivered," recalls Mohamed. "Things moved very quickly in those days. I went to Florida for 45 days to earn my comm-multi-inst and ATP ratings and a year later returned to the US to complete my G550 rating."

He adds, "I chose the G550 because it's the most sophisticated and advanced business aircraft in the world with the longest range and good availability of well trained support pilots." For his next upgrade in airborne flying stock Mohamed has ordered 2 G650s, with 2015 deliveries, to boost range capability to 7000 nm at Mach 0.85 and 5000 nm at Mach 0.90.

As delivery of the highly popular G650 is still 8 years out Mohamed ordered a second G550, with 2010 delivery, equipped with EVS, SVS and broadband Internet. During EBACE 2008 the chairman also placed orders for 2 Cirrus VLJs, with 2012 delivery, and plans to deploy these sporty single turbofans on short hops around Egypt and the region.

"My proposal is to always have a second aircraft available to supplement domestic trips and to provide backup when the G550 is in for maintenance," says Koncilia. "CAI-ALY, SSH and HRG (Hurghada, Egypt) are 20 to 40-min flights and they're routine destinations for us. Five [short] legs in quick succession always make for a fun day in the G550 and should suit the Cirrus jets well."

Looking to the future, Group Cleopatra is only held back from ordering an SSBJ due to product availability, says Mohamed, a consummate shopper: "If an SSBJ was ready today I would order one without any hesitation." Next on the ordering agenda is a light twin helicopter-likely either an AgustaWestland A109 Grand or a Eurocopter EC135.

Unfortunately, regulations in Egypt prohibit private use of helicopters so the new vertical takeoff asset will be based at the Group Ceramica Cleopatra factory at Bologna until the regulatory situation changes in Egypt.

Traffic congestion can be horrendous in Cairo and a helicopter would reduce travel time considerably between Mohamed's home and his factories as well as to his private island on the Nile.

Maintenance and scheduling

Kemp looks after 100-hr checks on the N-registered G550 at CAI, together with routine maintenance, and does flight mechanic duty aboard most international sectors. Because hangar space is not available at CAI, Group Cleopatra's aircraft stays out on the open ramp with nearest Gulfstream service support 3 hours away at either GVA or DXB (Dubai, UAE).

"Product support has been excellent on our G550, dispatch reliability has been better than 99% and we're still under warranty," says Maintenance Technician Thomas Driscoll, who earned his A& P license in 1985 and has since worked as a police officer for 7 years, an ambulance EMT for 2 years and manager of a meat packing plant for 5 years. He moved to Cairo after marrying his Egyptian-born wife.

Aviation Ops Mgr Emad Fahem manages regional G550 ops and works with Universal Weather & Aviation on international trip planning.

"We take the G550 to SAV for 500-hr checks," he says. As flight mechanic, Kemp assists pilots with walkarounds, fueling and baggage loading but is not involved in inflight passenger catering as Group Cleopatra boards dedicated flight attendants.

With the future prospect of hangar space at CAI, Kemp hopes to ramp up spares and GSE to tackle G550 annual checks at home in Egypt. International flight scheduling is coordinated with DXB-based ExecuJet Aviation Group, although Fahem, an Egyptian national who grew up in Canada, is coordinating more of the routine scheduling tasks within the region.

Operational challenges include juggling slots in Europe, to adapt to changing passenger schedules, and altitude holds over Russia and China. "If necessary we'll fly up to FL 470-510 at Mach 0.83, on long international sectors to maximize range but we're often held down in altitude over China and Russia.

This can impact range and cause unscheduled fuel stops," observes Koncilia. To maximize cost effectiveness the crew always shops for fuel and negotiates fuel uplifts in advance. "Our cost of fuel at CAI is $3 a gallon but we paid over $7 a gallon recently at LAS," says Kemp. "Whenever practical we'll tanker fuel from Egypt."

Favorite FBOs are the Signature chain-"nice but overpriced," says Koncilia-along with Jet Aviation GVA and Harrods Aviation LTN (Luton, London, England). Ground support in Japan and China is also expensive and of very high caliber. Both Fahem and Koncilia make a special effort to review invoices after international flights as there are ongoing discrepancies in overflight charges, handling and service costs.

"We're constantly getting double invoices, or wrong invoices, which I'm sure many companies just pay without checking," says Koncilia. "We've changed our billing system so that we can review all charges before paying anything."

Pilot lifestyles

Koncilia, a board certified plastic surgeon and G550 captain, enjoys the lifestyle of living in Vienna, staying in Cairo during his duty time and navigating the world airways. Medical and flying professions, he says, share certain similarities as both demand excellence and can involve long duty days.

Chief Flight Attendant Carmen Rutter never knows where she'll end up next. Group Cleopatra's G550 operates around the world, often on very short notice.

"Once, while performing microsurgery to reattach a severed arm, I was at the operating table continuously for almost 24 hours," recalls Koncilia. "Duty days within the flightdeck of our G550 are never quite this long but the challenges of remaining alert and effective can be similar."

Koncilia and Plank, both Austrian nationals, enjoy occasional vacations-letting contract crews take over the G550 front office-but the long-term objective is to have better organized flying schedules and hard time off.

 

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