In February 2015, British businessman Kevin Walls purchased Tyrol Air Ambulance (“TAA”). We caught up with him more than one year on to hear his thoughts on how the company is progressing, and his plans for the future of TAA.
TAA Blog: How did you first hear of TAA and what were your first impressions of the company?
KW: When I first came to hear of TAA, it struck me as an interesting investment opportunity. I am a businessman after all! Yet it was only when I began visiting the company in person that I saw what can’t be valued on paper, namely the passion and commitment shown right throughout the company.
Our staff here have enormous pride in what TAA stands for – quality service. If you boil it down, we are in the business of helping people in difficulty. Behind every case number is a story, family members, uncertainty and emotions. Our aim is to take care of these people to the best of our ability. In terms of job satisfaction it doesn’t get much better than that!
The company celebrates its 40th anniversary in 2016. What is your vision for TAA and where do you see the company by the year 2020?
We are one of the longest-established air ambulance companies, both in Europe and indeed worldwide. In modern business and particularly in this sector, I really believe that counts. My vision for TAA is therefore to build on our excellent reputation and brand name. I want to see TAA become the preferred air ambulance provider of choice in the world by 2020, and continue to develop its medical assistance business in the Alpine region. We are setting the bar high, but I know it’s achievable.
Can you outline the most significant changes that have taken place since you took over TAA in early 2015?
I’m happy to say that over the last 18 months, TAA has grown its air ambulance fleet by 20% and broken numerous internal company records for flight hours flown. We have added a third Gulfstream G100 aircraft which successfully entered service in March 2016 and is now operating worldwide. We now have a total of six aircraft in our fleet.
Structurally, we have split our medical assistance activities into a separate division in order to better serve our customers for the Alpine Region, while also realizing efficiencies with our air ambulance division. We have also added a significant number of new customers in both business areas, as well as increasing our business with our existing customers.
If that wasn’t enough, we will soon be moving into new, state-of-the-art offices including a new operations center! These really are exciting times for the company.
Do you have any thoughts on the recent Brexit referendum in the UK and how it might impact the air ambulance / medical assistance sectors?
The AA and MA companies in Europe have had a difficult summer because of the soft travel market. A near-global economic slowdown has limited the opportunity for growth. In the last few months, the AA and MA markets have softened significantly.
A seemingly never-ending chain of external events is taking a heavy toll on holiday destinations as demand in key markets shrivels: Attacks in Paris, Brussels, Istanbul, Nice, France and Germany have marked the summer of 2016 as one of extraordinary violence.
Include in this mix the attempted military coup in Turkey and all of a sudden Brexit, the U.K.’s vote to leave the European Union (EU), is beginning to look like the least dramatic development!
What are the biggest external challenges facing TAA and how do you see them being overcome?
There are many external challenges facing TAA. Some of the more significant challenges include the saturation in the European AA market and in my view will trigger a movement towards consolidation, due to yields being under extreme pressure.
More immediately, the above-mentioned soft travel market is also having a significant impact on our business. We will look on with interest at how both of these issues develop in the months ahead.
What are your impressions of Austria and Innsbruck in particular?
Austria is a beautiful country with very friendly people and in particular Innsbruck is a wonderful place to be based. You are surrounded by the Alps where you can go skiing in the winter and mountain hiking in the summer. The people are very hard-working – most people speak at least two languages and the quality of life is very high.
Do you have any funny stories since you became owner of TAA?
There are many funny events happening on a daily basis at TAA. In the end, we need to have a good sense of humour to balance the stress that everyone involved in daily air ambulance and medical assistance operations encounters. For that reason, I’m glad that there is a very good esprit de corps and very high morale within the company.
I try to take whatever opportunity I can to participate in the company’s social events and get to know all of our staff a bit better. You get to know people better outside of the workplace and I find that laughter is the best way to overcome any cultural and language differences you might encounter.