VOLDIRECT – A Pioneer in Western France
Another european operator – VOLDIRECT – has optained approval to operate commercial flights with the PC-12 under instrument flight rules (IFR). Pilatus Aircraft Ltd
Until now, business travellers in France, a country known for its centralistic structures, in most cases had no choice but to organise their air travel according to the motto “all routes run via Paris”. Passengers living in the peripheral regions of what is Europe’s third largest economy will certainly be familiar with the phenomenon. Recognising the problem, two entrepreneurs from Brittany, Frédéric Caussarieu and Jean Paul Legandre, saw an opportunity to develop a new business model and set up the “VOLDIRECT” airline in 2009. The company currently operates two aircraft flying direct routes from western France to destinations across Europe. The flagship of the fleet is the PC-12 NG flying under the call sign F-HOLI.
Positive Development in Europe
In a first phase, VOLDIRECT flights were only available to staff at seven companies in the region. In December 2015, however, the French aviation authorities approved VOLDIRECT to operate its PC-12 NG on a commercial basis. As a result, flights are now available to all passengers without restriction. Against payment, anyone who wants to can enjoy fast and comfortable travel across Europe aboard F-HOLI.
The path to official approval was a rocky one, requiring a great deal of hard work. Today, and in contrast to the rest of the world, commercial flights operated by single engine aircraft are not permitted at night or in weather requiring flight under instrument rules (IMC = instrument meteorological conditions) – even though there are no longer any technically plausible reasons to support such a stance.
Happily, however, things have moved forward in the recent past. The European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) has now drafted a proposal setting out the conditions in which single-engine commercial flights in IMC might be envisaged. The proposal has yet to be approved by the European Commission and the member states. It is anticipated that this will go ahead sometime next year.
Development of a new Passenger Oxygen Mask System
Pioneers such as Hendell Aviation, the Finnish outfit (see Pilatus Post 03/2013), and now VOLDIRECT, who have succeeded in negotiating a derogation from the European rules with their national aviation authorities, have been of enormous help in driving things forward.
Pilatus provided assistance to VOLDIRECT with its efforts in this direction by for example developing a new system to provide oxygen masks which are automatically presented to passengers in the event of an emergency. In the standard PC-12, the masks are stowed in the side panels. This meant VOLDIRECT was subject to a restriction on its commercial PC-12 operations: instead of approval up to altitudes of 30,000 feet, the flight was limited to a maximum of 25,000 feet. The French authorities would not cancel this restriction until the emergency oxygen masks were reconfigured to drop automatically from the ceiling in front of the passenger – as is the norm in today’s commercial airliners.
The newly developped option can now be ordered ex works for new aircraft, and also for retrofitting in earlier PC-12. Pilatus has already equipped two aircraft, including F-HOLI, with the new system.
VOLDIRECT Climbing High
And so VOLDIRECT flights have recently become available to everyone. In addition to ferrying business travellers around Europe during the week, F-HOLI is also often used for private travel at the weekend. The convenience of being able to fly direct to their destination naturally holds great appeal for customers and VOLDIRECT has become a much appreciated partner to many businesses and residents in Brittany and more generally in West of France. Frédéric Caussarieu comments that VOLDIRECT was originally set up to operate out of Rennes, serving clients based in Brittany. Having identified buoyant demand for their successful niche product – direct commercial flights with their PC-12 – the two entrepreneurs now hope to take their offering to other regions across France.