Editor’s Note: One of the newest King Air operators in Europe is also one of the most dynamic and ambitious. Managing Director Herman van Kranenburg wants Zeusch Aviation to become the largest King Air operator in Europe, summarizing he said, “As long as we have enough business, we will buy extra King Airs.” Guy Warner visited Zeusch recently to find out about its current ops and future plans.
Though it began commercial operations in 2018, Zeusch Aviation’s roots go back to 2010 when Dutch internet entrepreneur (and 747 captain) Con Zwinkels bought an Extra 300 aerobatic monoplane, essentially for his own use but also as a marketing tool. It was kept at Lelystad Airport. By 2013 he realised that he needed a larger aircraft for personal and corporate use. He asked the highly experienced aviation engineer and consultant, Herman van Kranenburg, to source one for him, which proved to be a Beechcraft King Air C90A, and at that time was U.S. registered as N104AJ. The aircraft was upgraded with a Garmin glass cockpit, Raisbeck Engineering four-blade propellers to increase engine efficiency and dual aft body strakes to enhance platform stability.
The next few years the King Air wasn’t really being used until Herman was asked to draw up a business case for using it in the role of aerial relay communications. This was approved by Con and an extensive modification package was drawn up with Gama Aviation in the UK and ASI Innovation in France. The mission-specific fit included the installation of 18 communications and microwave antennae under the wings and fuselage, and a rear-mounted, two-metre, deployable-in-flight, low-drag mast that would be the main means of the transmission of video and audio signals. A small camera fit was also added to monitor the deployment of the mast and to check for any problems such as icing and possible vibration. Two of the seats would be removed to facilitate the installation and dismounting of a purpose-built and certified equipment rack.
In late 2016 Con asked Herman to become the full-time managing director and accountable manager of Zeusch Aviation at Lelystad, with a specific brief to establish it as a profitable, diverse and expansion seeking company, which Herman accepted with a starting date of April 2017.
Following the completion and certification of King Air C90 2-ZEUZ (previously known as N104AJ) in April 2019, Zeusch undertook its first flight in support of broadcast coverage, acting as a signal-relay aircraft for live television coverage of a bicycle race in Holland.
Working with the Dutch media technology company NEP, with which it has a five-year contract, it supported the live television coverage of the Volta Limburg Classic single-day bicycle race. The aircraft flew above the route as live images were captured from the ground, relaying them to a base station, which immediately sent the footage to the outside broadcast vehicle. The NEP press release noted, “Antennas on the underside of the fuselage and wings captured the images and relayed them to NEP’s ground station. The Zeusch aircraft formed an integral part of the broadcast team, working alongside two motorcycles tracking the race and a helicopter filming the event. With the start and finish of the race in Eijsden [Netherlands], just south of Maastricht, the Zeusch Aviation aircraft flew a circular route above the race for the three-hour broadcast. One of Zeusch’s first officers, Boudewijn Schaapveld, added, “Our mission is to act as a satellite for the camera operators on the ground and in the helicopter, as we provide an aerial bridge between the film crew and the director. The operational capabilities of the King Air make it the perfect aircraft for the relay role. Its endurance, flexibility, electrical power and capacity to fly for up to five hours at a time, support the requirements to conduct reliable relay missions. The onboard NEP technician works closely with the flight crew and the director on the ground to give the best, continuous live coverage. Cloud covering does not disturb the transmission but developing weather systems and the surrounding terrain can make for stimulating flying. In order to stay focused, the captain and first officer swap jobs in the handling pilot and communications roles every 15 minutes. At all times flight safety is of the utmost concern and the captain’s word is final.”
Another 10 sporting events were booked by NEP for 2019, taking the King Air to several European countries, including the Hammer Race, a three-day cycling event in Norway. In 2020, a major task will be the Arctic Rally, beyond the Arctic Circle. The contract with NEP is non-exclusive, allowing Zeusch to work with other broadcast companies. The possibility of purchasing a second C90A for conversion to relay work is being actively considered or possibly adapting the other C90A Zeusch currently owns.
While 2-ZEUZ was being converted, Herman did not rest on his laurels. A second C90A was purchased, registered as 2-MAPZ. A glass plate 50 cm square aperture was installed in the ventral position to allow for the operation of gyro-stabilised mapping cameras. Herman commented, “Maps are important for organizing, maintaining and publishing the geospatial baseline of an area’s topography, natural landscape, built environment and more. King Air C90A 2-MAPZ is a superb platform for accurate data collection for detailed map creation. We are currently working across Europe with the German company Geofly, Get Mapping in the UK and the Belgian concern, Eurosense.” He continued, “This area of work has huge potential for a wide range of sensors and is by no means limited to Europe. Recently, a Zeusch crew was sent to Dubai to fly special missions measuring heat radiation. The mapping season in Europe extends from April to September before the seasonal lack of clear weather and lowering angle of the sun brings operations to a close. We are actively exploring opportunities in the Southern Hemisphere during the northern offseason. Our aircraft, 2-MAPZ is nicknamed ‘Borat’ as we sourced it in Kazakhstan before it underwent our modifications package.” The first mapping mission was undertaken in June 2018.
Even as the second King Air was undergoing conversion, a third was purchased in March 2018. This was a larger King Air, a B200 (G-MEDZ). As well as being fitted with similar avionics, propellers and strakes modifications as the two C90As, the new aircraft came with BLR winglets, which increase fuel efficiency by 4-5%. Mission-specific equipment for an air ambulance role was added – a Lifeport PLUS-system incorporating a stretcher for a single patient, as well as high-tech medical equipment including compressed air, a vacuum system, a triple outlet 1,000-watt inverter and a 3,500-litre oxygen system. Additional role-specific equipment can be added, administered by up to two clinicians, depending on the level of patient care required. In this medevac role, Zeusch works in partnership with IAS Medical, the UK-headquartered private air ambulance company, which holds the Aircraft Operator’s Certificate (AOC) on which the aircraft presently operates. The initial services were flown early in 2019, a poignant mission being the repatriation of a terminally ill patient whose last wish was to pass away in his home country.
For two months during the summer of 2019 the aircraft was based in Malaga, a port-city in southern Spain, working for the Spanish aviation organization Eliance. Herman noted, “Our King Air B200 has transported 45 patients between Melilla and Malaga. Patient care was administered by a local professional medical team during the 30-minute flight.” Melilla is a Spanish enclave located on the north coast of Africa, sharing a border with Morocco. It has a population of approximately 86,000 and is served by three small hospitals that provide limited health care.
He continued, “The Zeusch flights were invaluable, flying patients to ground ambulances in mainland Spain, which then transferred patients to clinical centres of excellence. We were proud to be part of this special operation which was literally lifesaving in some cases – especially for triplets born 14 weeks early. These flights not only show the need for specialized equipment and well-trained personnel, but also highlight the capabilities of our King Air B200. Most importantly it also demonstrates the importance of cooperation between entities to fulfil a specific mission. This has enhanced our operational expertise and provided an excellent platform for expanding our medevac operations, which we anticipate will widen out across Europe over the next year.”
Discussions are in hand with three Benelux ground ambulance companies and also with Lelystad Airport management regarding providing ATC and emergency cover for organ transport flights. Organ transport requires timely pickup and delivery to prevent deterioration, with a major transplant hospital being located not far away at University Medical Centre Groningen (UMCG).
Under the same AOC, G-MEDZ is also available for charter flights, seating up to eight passengers in a comfortable executive-style interior and can be changed to this configuration in two hours. King Air C90 (2-ZEUZ) is also a possibility for charter flight carrying up to seven people and again can be swiftly transformed. It is planned to have the B200 adapted for a third role by the installing a large 75 cm camera aperture. This would not only broaden the client base but also allow for an ever-developing range of cameras to be used. Herman adds, “The reliability, flexibility and functionality of our King Airs make them classic designs. They are our aerial SUVs and can fly into over 6,000 airfields in Europe alone.”
Looking ahead, the company has just purchased a fourth King Air, a B200, which already has a mapping aperture, Lifeport system and charter interior. It will be re-registered and upgraded with the same modifications as the other King Airs and is expected to be operational in the first half of 2020. Also, in 2020, Zeusch will bring its growing fleet under its own AOC.
Expansion of the Zeusch footprint at Lelystad is in hand, with the recent purchase of a 2,000 square-metre hangar, more than doubling the size of current facility. Lelystad is the largest general aviation airport in the Netherlands, however, on 7th November 2019, it will become a fully controlled civil airport in anticipation of which a large new passenger terminal has been constructed. It is expected that the authorisation of scheduled services being transferred from Schiphol (which is at its maximum allowed aircraft movements) will commence in 2020. Schiphol is the main airport in the Netherlands and is a short drive from Lelystad, making it an excellent alternative for those looking for a more passenger-friendly experience.
Other missions for Zeusch are under consideration and ongoing discussion with the relevant government bodies include surveillance flights for the military, law enforcement and other observers of activities on land and water, as well as calibration of airfield navigational and landing aids. The installation of suitable surveillance equipment is regarded as being fairly straightforward, using the Avcon Industries’ King Air Special Mission pod. Another plus factor is that the experience already gained of the precision flying required for mapping and relay flights, feeds directly into the skillset needed for surveillance and calibration tasks.
The legal framework is also under development for a shared ownership scheme, allowing private customers to purchase equity in the King Airs. Herman describes it as, “You get the benefits of part-owning an aircraft without the challenge that comes with managing it. Owners will have portal access allowing them to view availability of the aircraft and to schedule flights using a real-time system developed by Schedaero. Then we handle every trip detail from catering to maintenance. A unique feature of our program is that the pilots and crew are all Zeusch endorsed. You get the same aircraft, same staff and a team operating to the same high standards, every time you fly. The benefit is consistency, trust and familiarity – just as if you bought your own aircraft.”
Zeusch is a lean organisation, with just six fulltime staff, three in the office – a flight operations manager and two first officers. There are 10 freelance captains and eight monitoring pilots, though a staff captain will soon be appointed. The business model aims to have each aircraft flying at least 400 hours per year, with all flight crew being current on both types of King Air aircraft. Opportunity is also given for enhancing flying qualifications and progressing to aircraft captaincy.
Having spent some time at Lelystad with Zeusch, I was left with the impression of a very friendly, committed, enthusiastic and knowledgeable staff, who, importantly, like working together. Con Zwinkels has a mantra, “Once it starts looking like work, you should really be doing something else for a living.” He has a light touch, meeting Herman once a fortnight to discuss everything, but otherwise empowering the staff with trust, freedom and responsibility.
Grateful thanks are due to Herman, Martha, Boudewijn and Yvette for their hospitality and help with this article.
Guy Warner is a retired schoolteacher living in Carrickfergus in Northern Ireland. He has written more than 30 books on aviation, military and naval topics and is working on several more. He has contributed articles to many magazines in Ireland, the United Kingdom and the United States. Guy has also taken part in several radio broadcasts and TV programmes on the subject of aviation and naval history, reviews books for a number of magazines, gives talks to local history groups and other societies throughout Britain and Ireland and has acted as a consultant to the Royal Air Force, museums, local authorities and universities.