From Surrey to the world with the leading private jet company
PUBLISHED: 12:57 11 April 2012 | UPDATED: 16:10 28 April 2014
Bombardier Skyjet International is the leading private jet company in the world - flying the likes of Lewis Hamilton and Colin Montgomerie around the globe. MATTHEW WILLIAMS met up with the company's managing director, Bookham-based Judith Moreton
Originally published in Surrey Life magazine April 2007
Soaring above the clouds in a private jet, I'm heading off to my weekend retreat in the Caribbean for some sun, sea and cocktails. I can see the shadow of the wings skipping across the waves below, and the hostess asks me if I'd like another whiskey. "Why not?" I say, before pausing the DVD I'm watching on the state-of-the-art screen in front of me. I stretch and relax back into the hand stitched leather chair. And then I return to reality...
I'm currently browsing through the brochure of Bombardier Skyjet International, the leading private jet company in the world, sitting in the Farnborough Airport office of managing director, Judith Moreton. She's just finishing up on a call with one of her clients, and I'm daydreaming about the days when that flight might be just a call away for me. When Judith has finished, I ask her how it feels to have reached such a high power position in an industry that, at least from the outside, appears to be such a male dominated arena.
"It is quite unusual for someone at my level to be a woman," says Judith. "Women in aviation tend to be in very customer facing positions, such as cabin crew or customer handling in the airport. In management, however, they are quite rare. It can sometimes make it a little easier to attract attention at trade fairs and such, because normally there are just a lot of men in grey suits!"
When Judith, 44, is not jetting around the globe, she lives in Bookham with her pet tortoise, Monty, and cats, Charlie and Daisy. Travelling makes up about fifty per cent of Judith's time - as far as jobs go; this one certainly keeps you on your toes. She has come a long way from the 19-year-old who started working life 'pretending' to be a secretary.
"I left school after my A-Levels and didn't really know what to do. I pretended that I could type but I couldn't really at all!" she says. "I realised that I needed to go and do something else, and spotted an advert in the local paper for check-in staff at Bristol Airport. It was meant to be just for the summer, and I thought it would be fun working at the airport.
"So I went to work for Dan Air as a check-in girl, and at the end, they offered me the role permanently. I absolutely loved it - being at the airport was such a buzz - and I became increasingly interested in the planes themselves; how they work, fly and refuel, etc. I worked my way into an operations position and learnt the whole technological side of running an airline."
Judith was eventually made redundant, but undeterred moved over to Heathrow Airport, where for a while she worked for an oil company that had its own private fleet of aircraft. Before coming to Bombardier, she was the UK?general manager for Virgin Express, but soon realised that she was addicted to business aviation.
"One of the best things about Bombardier is that, as a manufacturer, we make the planes that we fly, which is quite unusual. It also means that we are always at the cutting edge of development," she says. "First class travel in airlines is now really good. They have definitely upped their game in recent years. But people still don't want to have to go through the whole hassle of international airports.
"Private jets are a very different form of transport to the more mainstream travel. You very often only have one or two people on a flight and so it is very personal. A lot of people want to do business on board - in a private and confidential environment. We guarantee to our customers that we will find them a plane immediately; wherever it is and wherever they are looking to go - and we don't charge extra for that."
Later on, we head out onto the tarmac, in amongst rows of Learjets, and get ferried over to one of Bombardier's jets - which is off to pick up a client from Naples. It costs from around five to eleven thousand euros an hour to hire a jet, and the company makes sure that attention is paid to every little detail to please such high spending clients. Cleaners adorn the wings of the plane, complete with polish and clothes; apparently, they'll have spent the last two hours before take-off making the jet sparkle.
I feel like Frank Sinatra as I enter the cabin, with its plush interior and polished surfaces. The likes of Lewis Hamilton, Colin Montgomerie, Sir Jackie Stewart, and Max Clifford are all users of Skyjet International's services. It's about avoiding other people's crying children and, instead, having space to yourself to think or work, or even, perhaps, relax. It might be the most expensive taxi fare you'll ever take, but they will get you from anywhere to anywhere with as little hassle as possible - and as with a taxi firm they are just a call away.
"Clients can have anything they want, within reason," says Judith. "We have had requests for gold-plated taps, for example. Everything on board our aircrafts is handmade. Whether it's the cabinetry, hand-stitched leather chairs or purpose-made carpets - it is all made by craftsmen in workshops."
And those of you thinking it all must be pretty comfortable in the jet set life, free of stresses and strains; well, Judith proves that isn't always necessarily the case. Whether it's singing Karaoke to be inducted into a circle of Japanese businessmen or eating monkey brain (I won't go into the finer details, for the queasiness it might prompt) with Chinese clients - Judith has never shirked from a challenge.
"I feel that it is very important to make the effort to understand and respect other people's cultures," she says. "Sometimes, things can be a little challenging, but I have honestly never been treated with anything other than absolute respect.
"I look after Europe, the Middle East, and Asia - and I love meeting new people. It's nice to go to beautiful places, obviously, but it's also great going to places where the aviation industry is fairly young. It's lovely to meet people who are so enthusiastic and wanting to learn more."
That enthusiasm and dedication are obvious in Judith as well, and one last story seems to highlight that perfectly. While in Singapore, she slipped on a set of stairs - before the Singapore Slings she promises - and fell onto her elbow. The next day, she launched an important new partnership, and so even though her arm was swollen and bruised she struggled through the day, shaking every hand that came her way until eventually she could take no more. Later, having been grudgingly taken to the hospital, the doctors informed her that she had a broken elbow - take that Terry Butcher and Stuart Pearce...
- Bombardier Skyjet International flies throughout the world, but is based at Farnborough Airport. For more details, visit www.skyjetinternational.com