Ten times the number of registered supporters, a reliability record that beats most modern military aircraft and exceptional results from merchandising are just a few of the successes that characterise the 2010 season for the Vulcan To The Sky Trust, the charity that operates the last flying Vulcan. “We have finished the season with a stronger organisation, good revenue growth in key areas and ownership of vital resources that will put us in an excellent position for 2011,” commented Trust chief executive Dr Robert Pleming.

“It’s fair to say that we have learnt much and the recession has speeded up that process,” continues Dr Pleming. “Our revenues from airshows and donations are significantly down this year, but our understanding of how to generate commercial income and maximise the available airframe life has increased dramatically. From a business strategy perspective, we are now out of the start up phase and, if we can raise the funds to make it through the winter, will be well-placed to meet our longer term goals.”

The astonishing popularity of the aircraft has taken even the Trust by surprise. Pleming says that the ‘Vulcan Effect’ is now undeniable. “Airshow organisers tell us that an appearance by Vulcan XH558 can boost attendance by 20 percent or more, which could easily be an extra 10,000 people. That’s a substantial amount of additional revenue for the airshow and for their trade customers.”

“This allows us to be much more business-like in our decisions on where to display,” continues Pleming, who says that from 2011 the aircraft will only fly at events where it can make a significant contribution to its upkeep. Appearances will also be scheduled so that more displays can be included in a single sortie and other revenue earning activities will be scheduled alongside each flight.

All major events will also include a Vulcan Village, one of the most successful commercial innovations of 2010 and a significant source of revenue. Ian Homer, marketing manager, reports that towards the end of the season, £26,000 was raised at just one show. In the last six months of the season, sales of merchandise brought in more profit than all the sales over all previous years combined.

“At the beginning of the season we brought merchandise sales in-house, we sourced more high-quality items and we expanded our distribution through development of the Vulcan Village concept and improvements to online store and our e-newsletter,” says Homer. “We’ve learnt that in tough times, people prefer to buy than to give, so we will be developing many more ranges including more high value products and original Vulcan heritage items. We will have new lines for Christmas including a superb XH558 50th anniversary book.”

There are now nearly 25,000 registered friends of XH558 who receive the uprated e-newsletter, a massive ten fold increase on 2009. In just ten days earlier this month, 19,000 people visited the website www.vulcantothesky.org . “Numbers like this make sponsorship of XH558 very attractive to commercial companies,” points out business development director Michael Trotter.

Outstanding Reliability

The fifty year old Vulcan missed just one of its 29 scheduled appearances due to technical problems this year, making it more reliable than many modern aircraft. “The Red Arrows display with nine Hawks, but they normally bring along ten in case of technical snags. It’s the same for many other famous aircraft on the circuit. Not the Vulcan. It’s a remarkable compliment to our technical team,” says project engineering director Andrew Edmondson.

Also this year, the team received the approvals required to perform and sign-off defined maintenance tasks, reducing dependency on commercial organisations and providing faster repairs at any location. This has already led to significant savings in the engineering bill.

Support for Good Causes

Despite its financial challenges, the Trust has been a generous supporter of good causes. The aircraft flew for Coventry Airport’s Help For Heroes event and two weeks later for the BBC’s Children In Need. A new relationship has been formalised with Aerobility (formerly the British Disabled Flying Association) to provide joint promotional opportunities, supporting a charity that transforms the lives of disabled and disadvantaged people by allowing them to fly and even qualify for a pilot’s license. Education remains a core objective and the Key Stage1 &2 pack for schools has now been audited and given top marks. It is ready for distribution and the next key stages are in development.

Financial Challenges

The Trust’s business plan for 2010 required an income of approximately £2.5 million. Although many areas of revenue were on or ahead of target (such as merchandise sales), the recession has led to donations missing its target by £257,000 and significant reductions in other areas of income, leading to a shortfall of approximately £400,000 that must be made-up by the end of October.

“We now realise that it is unlikely that we will find a single large sponsor, so we have decided to look for companies to sponsor specific areas such as fuel, insurance and the educational programmes at school and apprentice level,” says Pleming. “We are developing attractive packages for branding, hospitality and exclusive experiences that will allow us to offer something valuable in return.”

Plans for 2011

“2011 will be a turning point in the way we manage the Trust,” promises Dr Pleming. “As well as operating much more commercially, we will increase the role the Vulcan plays in teaching science, technology, maths and Cold War history and in inspiring the young engineers of the future. We also want to provide more opportunities for our supporters to see the aircraft, meet the people and be part of our future.”

Fundraising plans include hospitality and events, the sale of original heritage items from the Trust’s vast hardware inventory and further development of the successful merchandising activities. Merchandising units will be available to heritage stores and local enthusiast groups to extend the reach of the Trust’s commercial activities nationwide. High-end luxury experiences will be offered through the now proven relationship with 2Excel Aviation, operator of The Blades aerobatics team.

With XH558 now in a hanger at RAF Lyneham, one of the most exciting developments is that negotiations are now underway for a new winter home that is fully accessible for supporters, school-visits, training for young engineers, corporate hospitality and social events. The site will consolidate many of the Trust’s existing operations and will include a maintenance facility, a shop and support for the increasingly successful webstore.

Pleming is also keen to make the aircraft more accessible to the many thousands of people who donate money to keep her flying. “With cash very short we really haven’t done enough for the supporters this year, so in 2011 we will be holding ‘meet XH558’ days and, where possible, will be providing priority access to the aircraft when she is on the ground at airshows,” says Pleming. “2011 looks hugely exciting and we are all working exceptionally hard now to ensure that we get there.”

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