Meet the MD: Jonathan Gordon of Atlantic Bridge Aviation

Meet the MD: Jonathan Gordon of Atlantic Bridge Aviation

It's not often we speak to entrepreneurs who have ticked off all of their childhood goals, but Jonathan Gordon of Atlantic Bridge Aviation is a rare exception. BQ caught up with him to hear more about his day-to-day job and what he feels makes a great business leader.

What is it the company does?

We run a scheduled and charter airline carrying both passengers and freight throughout Europe, Scandinavia and North Africa.

The airline is also cleared for various special activities such as the carriage of dangerous goods. We operate pistons, turbo-prop and jet aircraft.

We offer fractional (part share) in aircraft; buy, sell and lease aircraft, as well as manage aircraft.

We also offer consultancy services across the aviation sector specialising in airline and airport development.

We have just developed an intelligent software programme called Flight Plan, an industry first, which can comprehensively analyse corporate travel needs and identify the most cost-effective option for clients.

We were also responsible for all the early development of LyddAirport (now known as LondonAshfordAirport), which we previously owned outright. The company remains a shareholder in the airport today.


What does your role involve?

I am in charge of all the group companies. For the airline I hold the post of accountable manager (top position) as well as chief pilot and training manager. I fly pistons, turbo-props and jets and train pilots on all these types of aircraft.

Within ABA, I head up the consultancy division which involves itself mostly with airline start-ups and aviation business development.


Give us a brief timeline of your career so far – where did you start, how did you move on?

1975 – Oxford Air training school, where I gained my professional flying licence and was named Student of the Year.

1976 – Joined British Caledonian Airways as a co-pilot on short-haul jets. I became captain on long-haul jets in 1983. I resigned as the youngest ever captain in British Caledonian to become involved in airport development in 1987.

1979 – 1986 (in parallel with British Caledonian) – Started Gordon-Air Limited, an aircraft sales and management company. This involved flying low-maintenance (single engine) aircraft across the North Atlantic and, by the mid-1980s, I had built the business up to be a strong sector leader. In 1981 we gained unconditional waiver of the North Atlantic, allowing us to ferry low-performance (single engine) aircraft across the North Atlantic.

1987-88 – Managing director of Lydd Airport Group, with responsibility for airport development.

1988 to date – Managing director of Atlantic Bridge Aviation Ltd, focusing on aircraft training, sales and leasing; providing marketing and business planning consultancy services for the DTI. Involved in numerous airline start-ups, including the $100m launch of NEPC Airlines in India in 1992. Within four years, the airline had become a strong sector leader, operating nine 50-seat turbo-prop aircraft, four Boeing 737s and a thriving corporate department. The most recent was a Caribbean start-up in 2014.

1996 – 2005 – Re-acquired Lydd Airport and launched Sky-Trek Airline and Sky-Sure engineering. The group became profitable from 1999 and attracted overseas investment as a result in 2001. In 2002, the airline was rebranded as LyddAir Ltd, with a charter division World Executive Airways.

2005 – Sold majority stake in LyddAirport and took 100% of the airline shareholding and now continue to develop the airline and consultancy business.


What do you believe makes a great leader?

It’s important to lead from the front and have the ability to see the big picture at all times. It’s also vital to have industry knowledge across the board.


What has been your biggest challenge in your current position?

Coping with the change in legislation as the industry transitioned from having UK oversight to European Safety Agency (EASA) oversight.


How do you alleviate the stress that comes with your job?

I’m lucky in that business is a love as well as flying. So while I do get stressed, I mostly consider my career as a vocation. I exercise a lot as well, particularly in the morning, which gives me time to work out any issues.


When you were little, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I always wanted to run my own business and to be a pilot so I’ve achieved both!


Any pet hates in the workplace? What do you do about then?

I hate any kind of dishonesty, it’s something I won’t tolerate. I also hate lack of interest and drive from staff.


Where do you see the company in five years time?

Floating on the stock market.


What advice would you give to an aspiring business leader?

Know and interpret the market, including historic and projected macro and micro analysis. Having realistic market objectives related to the overall market are key.

It’s important to try to understand the risks and accept the downside. If you can’t do that then you should think long and hard before starting.

Make sure you create a budget and monitor it honestly from day one. Don’t kid yourself about the future.

Finally I’d say that while any entrepreneur naturally needs to be optimistic, this needs to be tempered with realism.