Published: 08:17, 06 July 2018
A former high-flying businessman has set his sights on offering the “Orient Express of the skies”, by transforming a vintage aircraft into a luxury passenger service.
Keith Perkins, 54, from Yalding, made his fortune in the finance sector in the UK and Asia before setting up Aero Legends in 2014 at Headcorn Aerodrome.
Already turning a healthy profit with its packages offering flights in aircraft including the iconic Spitfire, his next investment could be his most ambitious yet.
He explains: “The numbers at the year-end, in March, for Aero Legends were very good. So it’s already self-sustaining. The issue now is do I continue to invest in new areas. And the answer is yes.”
The plan is to buy a vintage DC3 Dakota plane - more Indiana Jones than Boeing 747 - and turn it into a passenger service.
Already in talks with the Civil Aviation Authority, the plan would be to run a service ferrying passengers on a 32-seater between destinations in the UK.
And if that all goes to plan, then launch a “very luxurious version” to continental Europe with a 12-seater version.
The only problem is that such aircraft will not be suitable for Headcorn, due to the length of the runway. Talks are already under way with a different airport operator.
Explains Mr Perkins, who went to school in Maidstone before training to be an accountant and ending up as chief operating officer for a finance firm based in Hong Kong: “The 12-seater would be the Orient Express of the skies.
“At this stage we’re just looking at it from logistic and financial standpoint. But I’d like that to start next year.
“I’ve found an aeroplane – only problem is it’s in Australia so it’s a lot of flying to get it home.”
Aero Legends was born after Mr Perkins fulfilled his life-long desire to own his own Spitfire.
Based at the Headcorn airfield - a former Second World War station for the RAF - and in Mr Perkins’ childhood backyard, it took off rapidly, and a host of other vintage craft have joined the line-up since - all funded courtesy of Mr Perkins’ deep pockets.
Last year the company won start-up of the year at the Kent Excellence in Business Awards (KEiBAs) and its range of experiences - allowing customers to take to the skies or fly alongside legends from yesteryear - has proved a winning formula.
He explains: “I decided in 2010 I wanted to get a Spitfire and I thought I could afford to buy one.”
Finally introduced to someone who could assist, his first Spitfire took off in December 2013 and was swiftly followed by a two-seater version of the iconic machine.
“I decided to start a business just to get enough revenue to cover the cost of the aircraft as they cost a lot of money just sat on the ground. So I started Aero Legends and was overwhelmed by the response.”
Mr Perkins adds: “I thought it would be one and done, but we’re seeing multiple experiences and multiple Spitfire flights. We have customers coming back time and again.”
A 20-minute spell in the air - taking in a flight over the White Cliffs of Dover - will set you back £2,750. Upgrade that the ‘ultimate’ experience - which includes 40-minutes airborne, plus lessons in a T6G Harvard and de Havilland Tiger Moth and you’ll get no change from £5,395.
However, pleasure flights on a de Havilland are just over £100.
But then this is bucket-list territory we’re in here and highly expensive to maintain at that.
“I own all the aircraft personally and it’s my money going into it. It’s nice to get a commercial use out of them as they’re horribly expensive,” he says. “The standing costs are £500,000 to £1m a year just to keep them airworthy and insured.”