In 2005 a unique company was established in the south of the Netherlands: unique because it has a direct link with civil aviation as well as the military armed forces. Northern Skies Aviation has been talking to the three top officials of the Forum Group about the growth and ambitions of their organization.
History Forum Group
Stef Have, CEO and founder of the Forum Group and Michel Versteeg, COO, shareholder of Forum Group and director of AEC Air Support have known each other since they were both AH-64D Apache pilots with 301 Squadron of the Royal Netherlands Air Force (RNLAF) based at Gilze-Rijen air base. During a barbecue enjoying a beer they hit upon the idea of setting up the Forum Group. They developed the idea while focusing on creating a location where various disciplines could come together to reach their business goals. As both of them had a military background and expertise in aviation it was obvious that the various disciplines should be in those fields. In 2008 they submitted a bid on a tender for the ownership of the Dutch airfield of Seppe, situated to the west of Breda. Forum Group won the bid and became the new owner of the entire airfield and thus responsible for its exploitation and contracting to give Seppe the necessary boost. Nowadays Breda International Airport is one of the few profitable airports in the Netherlands. In this article the focus on one business, Skyline Aviation.
With decades of experience Skyline Aviation provides high performance aircraft support to government and corporate clients. Managing director of Skyline Aviation is Kim Olde Bijvank. "We offer tailor-made solutions in electronic warfare training, Joint Terminal Attack Controller (JTAC) training, target towing, radar calibration and sensor with video downlink services." according to Kim Olde Bijvank. Besides Skyline Aviation also provides aerial assets for in-flight testing of advanced technology for a number of renowned research institutes like TNO and Thales. Based at Groningen Airport Eelde, in the north of the Netherlands, Skyline Aviation operates a variety of air assets and has conducted operations in Europe, the Middle East and the Caribbean for over 25 years.
In the early years the L-39s of Skyline Aviation were Estonian registrated.
The Learjet 36A wearing the early white color scheme.
In 2010 the company became part of the Forum Group and nowadays the company has its own fleet of two Aero Vodochody L-39ZOs and a Learjet 36A together with pilots, engineering and support personnel. Their personnel is highly qualified and many of them have a military background. For example many of the pilots are former F-16 pilots from the RNLAF. Kim Olde Bijvank: "This is necessary because they have the relevant operational experience to conduct the missions for our clients." Equipped with the L3 Wescam MX-10 or MX-15 sensor JTAC personnel can train the procedures in a very realistic way, known today as Digital Advanced Close Air Support. In addition to air-to-ground they have specialized in the air-to-air role, also known as Red Air.
Preparations by a Skyline Aviation technician just before take off.
Equipped with the L3 Wescam MX-15 sensor this Skyline Aviation L-39ZO sets off for a mission to train JTAC personnel.
In 2015 Draken International approached Skyline Aviation with the idea to examine Draken's participation as Red Air in the Fighter Weapons Instructor Training (FWIT) course at Leeuwarden air base (see article AI Vol.93 No.5). The FWIT course design is based on the US Air Force weapons officer training conducted at the Weapons School at Nellis AFB, Nevada and is executed by 322 Tactical Training Evaluation and Standardization Squadron at Leeuwarden air base. Kim Olde Bijvank explained: "To us it was a dead certainty that we would lead the project of FWIT. Draken International would provide the aircraft and pilots and we would take care of the rest." During FWIT Skyline Aviation supplied support, being two ground crew engineers, a pilot and Kim Olde Bijvank as chief operations and Draken International supplied four L-159E ALCAs.
During FWIT 2017 held at Leeuwarden airbase four L-159E ALCAs of Draken International flew Red Air missions against FWIT candidates. During the deployment the Skyline Aviation badge and name was painted on all four ALCAs.
Kim Olde Bijvank added: “The participation in FWIT has turned out to be even more positive than we had anticipated. Especially the accuracy in carrying out the Red Air missions and the added value for the F-16 pilots of FWIT has been an eye-opener for the RNLAF. This trial was important for us to find out which future assignments could be interesting and what kind of obstacles there could possibly be. Together with Draken International we have shown to be the partner for such assignments." Though 2017 was a great year, Kim Olde Bijvank expects that there will be even more flying hours this year.
Skyline Aviation has one Learjet 36A in its inventory. Seen here with targeting tow equipment at Volkel airbase during the RNLAF Open Days. Nowadays the tail of this aircraft is painted red.
Stef Have: "As a company we have undergone a Darwinism growth. For the future we will have to specialize further in the support of air-to-ground and air-to-air missions. Air-to-ground will remain our base and further growth is viable. As far as air-to-air is concerned we will have to determine if we can do this on our own or by co-operating with partners such as Draken International." Michel Versteeg: "To service the market at its optimum Skyline Aviation will merge with AEC Air Support before the end of this year." In addition the Forum Group will focus on agencies/representations. One of the companies the Forum Group represents as an agent is the above-mentioned Canadian L3 Wescam: a company that produces a broad range of communication, electronic and sensor systems used by the military, security forces and commercial platforms.
What certainly is not lacking is the ambition of Forum group to grow and according to Michel Versteeg more acquisitions will likely follow. The Forum Group will remain committed to further strengthening its market position.
The complete article is published in the December issue of Air International magazine.