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2EXCEL – Doing Difficult Things in Aerospace Very Well By Howard Wheeldon, FRAeS, Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd.





Headquartered at Sywell Aerodrome in Northamptonshire, co-founded in 2005 by two former Royal Air Force pilots, Andy Offer and Chris Norton, directly employing over 450 highly specialist staff including 59 contractors, 2Excel is an innovative aviation solutions business delivering a wide range of world-class services.

Owned and managed by what I can only describe as being exceptional people, this is a company that not only delivers what customers require with a combination of speed, precision and efficiency but one that as far as I can see is constantly exceeding expectations.

A well-established, trusted and highly respected aviation services business, over the near 15 years since it was founded 2Excel has not only developed and acquired people, skills, assets and approvals required to turn complex concepts into tangible capabilities but also built on a reputation of delivering a range of aviation related services that meet the most challenging of aviation requirements.   

With its Head Office at Sywell Aerodrome in Northamptonshire, two main operations located at Doncaster Airport (2Excel Aviation), Lasham Aerodrome (2Excel Engineering) and with small teams also employed at Stansted Airport, Oxford (Kidlington) Airport and Copenhagen perhaps what sets this company apart from its piers is that having taken third party risks in-house 2Excel is able to control costs, hit deadlines and deliver services to disrupt existing markets and burst into new ones. Not a company that is prepared to stand still or rest on its laurels, 2Excel is an emerging force that is well able to bid for and win contracts against much larger competitors.

At this year’s Royal International Air Tattoo it emerged that 2Excel had been contracted by Leonardo to provide the Flight Test Aircraft for the Team Tempest future fighter programme, an aircraft likely to be a Boeing 757 – known as Excalibur – which will test all the systems and technology to eventually go into the next-generation combat jet.

With a customer base that includes Government Departments, defence and oil industries and importantly airlines and airline brokers, 2Excel has been designed from the outset to deliver innovative solutions to a huge variety of different and complex aviation-based challenges that include or require cutting-edge capability development, special missions, charter and large commercial aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul.

Amongst many important services offered, 2Excel Special Missions works with Government and industry customers using highly modified aircraft and specialist flight crew. Services will often be time sensitive, and critical to customer operations.

2Excel have long supported overt and covert aerial surveillance operations for the UK Government and with two Beech 200 King Air aircraft equipped with high spec radar, voice and data communications services developed include the ability to offer Fisheries Patrol, Border Protection Law Enforcement, Counter Pollution and overt surveillance. The company was awarded a very important contract from the Maritime and Coastguard Agency to operate the fixed wing elements of UK search and rescue earlier this year.

Counter Pollution work using the two Boeing 727 aircraft that are fully equipped with the TERSUS aerial dispersant system which sprays on oil slicks to disperse them is the only compliant system operational in the world today. The company has a major contract with oil Spill Response Ltd, a global industry co-operative that is 70% owned by the world’s oil and gas producers, covering the period 2018 to 2028. In Counter Pollution the company has a similar contract with Oil Spill Response Ltd covering the period 2016 to 2021 for which in regard of surveillance work 2Excel uses PA-31 Navajo aircraft.        

Visiting and attempting to pick out UK based companies that I believe have a really great future ahead of them has been something of a tradition for me since I first started producing commentary 26 years ago and my visits to the company’s Doncaster (2Excel Aviation) and Lasham (2Excel Engineering) facilities last month was as fascinating as it was also very enjoyable. 2Excel fits into the above category very well not least because of the culture, attitude and approach of management and people that I met, a strategy built on a determination to continue doing difficult things well but also the desire to always be innovative and importantly, to further build expertise with partners in order to expand the business.

With an annual turnover of c£45m in markets that are worth billions it is not hard to envisage the abundant potential that a company such as 2Excel has across the variety of aviation activities it specialises in. 2Excel has got the position it has not only by being innovative throughout and seized on opportunity but also in my view because it was prepared to accept the inevitability of risk and invest in its own future.

As a holding company with two main key product sets (2Excel Aviation and 2Excel Engineering) that deliver a wide range of aviation related services suffice to say that 2Excel has very quickly become a leader in the delivery of a complex range of aviation sector solutions.

Working for the MOD and Home Office together with a range of blue-chip companies engaged in defence, oil and gas, survey, airlines, aircraft operators and leasing companies, 2Excel’s work will almost always include finding, designing and building solutions to the most challenging of aviation related problems. An extremely important element of work includes disaster response for which the company with its partner TAG Aviation own and operate two Boeing 727 aircraft that are fitted out for oil spill response. 2Excel Aviation has also been awarded an important contract this year by the Maritime and Coastguard Agency for the company to supply and operate fixed-wing elements of search and rescue support. Two King Air (B200) aircraft are being used for this work. 

As a holding company 2Excel operates along the lines of a matrix-based organisation, one that attempts to cross fertilises the vertical lines of businesses in order to produce agility and efficiencies across all of its people and assets. Having minimised third party risk through either procuring or developing supporting lines of business, 2Excel is able to control its costs and time and therefore over deliver to its customer base.

2Excel Aviation provides a variety of work in relation to research and development, aircraft and aerospace component design, production, certification, flight testing & trials, training, maintenance, repair, overhaul (MRO) together with modification work and delivering commercial air transport and public transport aviation services for fare-paying passengers and cargo. In addition, the company owns the world’s only full-time civilian aerobatic team – The Blades.

As already mentioned above, 2Excel Aviation and its business partner, TAG Aviation (Stansted) through T2 Aviation, a company formed in 2011, operate two Boeing 727 aircraft which are the only fully compliant large jet oil spill dispersant aircraft in the world.

With a mission of reducing response times and providing rapid and reliable capability for the oil industry whenever and wherever needed, the on-board dispersant spraying system, TERSUS, is the only system in the world that meets current new EASA and FAA regulations for oil dispersant liquids. Maintained at 2Excel’s highly invested facilities at Doncaster Airport and flown by specialist crews approved by the UK Civil Aviation Authority to fly at 150ft, the B727 aircraft are on four-hour readiness to go anywhere in the world, 365 days a year.

For oil spill surveillance work 2Excel operates a PA-31 Navajo Special Missions aircraft, equipped with state-of-the- art sensors and high bandwidth communications equipment. Operating alone or alongside the Boeing 727 spray aircraft, the PA-31 Navajo is similarly on one-hour readiness x 365 days a year, and is able to respond to any incident within the UK Continental Shelf area. With EO, IR and UV sensors and broadband satellite communications, the platform can send real-time video and analysis back to the customer operations centre, or to anywhere else in the world. In respect of research, development, test and evaluation arm, 2Excel’s Special Missions operation provides agile, low-cost, airborne test and evaluation capabilities for UK government and defence and security industrial base.

The Special Missions team comprises both experienced Test Pilots and Operational Test and Evaluation pilots and engineers, all of whom have extensive military experience.   Delivering “concept to capability” through integrated development and test in an agile and cost-effective way, it employs a unique suite of ‘plug-and-play’ capabilities. With a comprehensive list of approvals 2Excel is able to work under EASA CAT, Part SPO or Public Transport rules. Aircraft modifications are designed, manufactured and installed (in house) by 2Excel’s Capability Development business to be fully compliant with the appropriate regulatory requirements. 2Excel also has extensive experience in a wide variety of airborne systems and capabilities but has comprehensive expertise in the radar, electro-optic, laser, infrared and radio-frequency spheres.

The 2Excel Aviation fleet of 30 aircraft includes a variety of different platforms ranging from large Boeing 727/737 jets through to the small/agile Extra 300.  Special Missions has access to all aircraft types although the main fleet comprises PA-31 Navajo and Beechcraft King Air 200 aircraft. In addition to a range of endurance work, reconnaissance, oil spill and separately, work for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, the 2Excel Aviation aircraft fleet are able to provide extensive flight trials capabilities of up to 29,000 ft altitude and 5 hours endurance.

Both the Navajo and King Air 200 aircraft feature dedicated/segregated mission power systems, high speed Ethernet, integrated AHRS/GPS Truth Systems, mission RF and communications systems, internal equipment racks and external hard points, modular underbelly applications pod systems capable of carrying a wide variety of payloads, including low-band and high-band radar systems. The PA-31 Navajo Radar Applications Pod (RAP) can accommodate small fixed and scanning radars, whilst the King Air Leading Edge Applications Pod – Radar (LEAP-R) can carry a variety of radars and scanners of up to 1150 mm. The team of experienced pilots, design engineers and maintainers work together directly with clients using a ‘Combined Test Team’ (CTT) approach. Collaboration on this basis together with the rapid aircraft role change capability allows delivery of an agile, innovative and cost-effective solution focussed totally on the customer’s requirement.

2EXCEL Engineering is the fast-growing Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) organisation for Boeing and Airbus narrow-bodied aircraft based at the former MOD-owned Lasham Airfield in Hampshire. Providing service-oriented maintenance, repair and overhaul to commercial aircraft operators, owners, leasing companies and Governments, the business is highly invested in tooling, equipment and spares along with specialist engineers and technicians.

2Excel Engineering prides itself on unique flexibility that enables the company to undertake programmed ‘nose-to-tail’ maintenance and modifications as well as unscheduled work requested at short notice. With four fully-equipped, narrow body aircraft hangers together with two small aircraft (PA-31 and King Air) hangars along with 12,000 square meters of workshops (including electrical, structural and composite repair, machine shop, heat treatment, paint and upholstery) plus massive range of tooling, test and calibration equipment for loan and hire, the company has excellent capacity allowing acceptance of scheduled, short notice unscheduled work.

2Excel Engineering’s capabilities include in-house structural, composite component repair bays, ADG Repairs, D-rating None Destructive Testing capabilities that include Eddy Current, Liquid Penetrant, Magnetic Particle, Radiographic, Ultrasonic, including Phased Array together with Structural modifications and repairs in order to increase aircraft capabilities and competence, compliance with regulatory changes and harmonise larger fleets. In house avionics teams can overhaul and upgrade avionics and in-flight entertainment systems and the company operates in-house seat and upholstery upgrades facilities.

The company holds A1 Approvals for Boeing 727, 737 CL, NG, BBJ and 757 aircraft and for Airbus A320’s plus A2 Approvals for piston engine aircraft and the Beech 200. Own workshop C ratings include C4, C5, C6, C8 and C20 (i.e. Doors and Hatches, Electrical Power and Lights, Equipment, Flight Controls and Structural. 2Excel Engineering has Maintenance and Repair Organisation Certification from the UK’s EASA, the FAA in the USA and in Bermuda, Burkina Faso, Cayman Islands, Guernsey, and Isle of Man. The company also holds EASA Third Country Operator (TCO) Approval enabling European registered aircraft to be maintained should the UK withdraws from the European Union.

Harnessing military experience of ‘The Blades’ aerobatic team with bespoke development in camera and data link technology, in 2008 2Excel developed a surrogate surveillance-drone and air land integration device for the British Army. With the ability to fly a full range of technologies, from synthetic aperture radar, electro-optic and infra-red turrets and cameras, to lasers and a wealth of antennae across the radio frequency spectrum, 2Excel provides specially designed solutions to clients’ needs across a breadth of operations at an affordable price, due to a flexibility of a plug and play platform. For air, sea or land requirement, 2Excel provides contract air power from survey through surveillance to surrogacy. Whether the requirement is airborne relay stations, close air support platforms, airborne command and control elements, filming or a surveillance services, it can fit appropriate equipment to its highly capable fleet of aircraft in order to deliver the requirement.

Under the ATO heading and based at both Doncaster Airport (the former RAF Finningly which has a 9,498 ft runway making this one of the longest in the UK) and at Copenhagen in Denmark where the company uses training equipment facilities provided by CAE, 2Excel Aviation operates three training organisations – one for light aircraft training, a second for complete training and a third for large aircraft training, the latter including Boeing 727 and 737 Type Rating, Revalidation or Renewal Training, Type Rating Instructor Training and both 727 and 737 Base training.   

2Excel’s Charter businessoffers what the company terms as its “unparalleled range of bespoke air travel solutions that aim to deliver value for money personalised air travel”. Although I have not visited this part of the operation the ability to fly individual group on charter flights and the ability of the aircraft to accommodate a range of additional equipment such as ski’s and golf clubs is increasingly in demand.

From concept, through project design and testing all the way through to certification and production Leading Edge, which sits within the Capability Development business, has one of the broadest scopes of approval for Design and Certification in Europe. This includes privileges necessary for flight test, capability to manufacture mechanical and electrical parts, assemblies, soft furnishings, cable harnesses and installation kits for aircraft. Able to provide bespoke design changes and products on all aircraft types including ‘one off’s, Leading Edge specialises in putting unusual design changes in easy reach, following a design philosophy of simplicity and innovation and tackling modifications that others are unable or unwilling to do.

Whilst the Blades Aerobatic Team requires little introduction from me, formed in 2006 and for the record this leading flying display team is world-famous for flying close formation aerobatics to the highest level. Based at Sywell, the Blades Aerobatic Team perform to an estimated have four million people per year at airshows and private events. Staffed mainly by former Red Arrows pilots, the Blades are also the world’s only aerobatic airline able to fly passengers in formation on flying experience days, in line with the same safety standards as mainstream airlines.   

CHW (London – 23rd October 2019)

Howard Wheeldon FRAeS 

Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,

M: +44 7710 779785

Skype: chwheeldon



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