Private planes and jets used to be for billionaires and celebrities. The skies were filled with Louis Vuitton trunks and plenty of businessmen setting their own agendas for where and when to send those wheels up. However, in the last few years things have changed – although private jetting is still utterly niche – and a whole new market has opened up, where tech is leading the charge. The traditional model of private aviation needed to be disrupted – and fliers are rejoicing.
Today, you can go on your iPhone and 20 minutes later hop on a charter flight for a fraction of the price it would be to take the whole plane – you can basically Uber pool and see what’s available to your chosen destination.
One such company is Victor with its “on-demand” charter with technology strengthening its offering – calling it a fusion of hi-tech and hi-touch customer service. “We are enabling customers to book quickly via web or app and without a broker – the traditional charter has relied on opaque brokers, who keep operator apart from customer and don’t always provide clear info around pricing, margin or specific aircraft,” explains Clive Jackson, CEO and founder of Victor. “As our new data shows, more and more customers are benefitting from the wide range of charter options that we offer and trusting in the clear, easy to understand way we present them.”
Jackson adds that consumers are fond of this new “sharing economy” which we live in now, because regardless of socio-economic standing, time is the world’s most precious commodity.
He says that on-demand businesses operating in the sharing economy have a vital role to play in helping people make their lives more efficient within a congested environment where time delays happen regularly. This collaboration of on-demand services within a sharing economy is prompting every industry to evolve to provide more and more consumers with what they need, when they need it.
Victor was the first company to disclose aircraft and crew specifics, side-by-side comparisons of thousands of jets at 40,000 airports worldwide and instant estimate pricing. In the latest Sunday Times Tech Track 100 (which came out a month ago) showing the UK’s fastest growing private tech companies, Victor came 20th with a sales growth of 139 per cent. Apparently flexibility, cost effectiveness and time efficiency in travel are the buzzwords for a 21st century life. But they are not alone.
And so, in the last five years many other apps have launched (and shuttered) presenting similar offerings, such as JetSuite and Surf Air – some are even trying subscription-based models. The need, obviously, just seems to be growing. With security lanes becoming longer, airports becoming more unmanageable and the constant headache delays that have become part of flying – well those in the know (and with the right means) can now avoid all of those nightmares.
But for some, the best way to travel is always with a trusty brand. Tradewind, a private aviation company based in the US, however, prides itself on owning its own fleet, having a two-member crew for extra safety and is not opting to be the “Uber for private jets” even as they embrace the technology aspects.Tradewind offers all the private charter perks (from free snacks and drinks, to no TSA security all the way to free checked baggage) for the cost of a single seat. “Travellers purchase each seat à la carte or they can purchase books of tickets for each route at a discount,” says David Zipkin, founder of Tradewind. He says tickets are interchangeable among family and friends at no fee and can also be cancelled up to a few hours before each flight at no cost.
For Zipkin many of the “alternative aviation” and “boutique airlines” launch with promises, but are in fact only marketing companies or brokers which then sacrifice control over the traveller’s overall experience. “Tradewind has been operating its own fleet of Pilatus aircraft since 2001, providing the access and reliability that only comes with 15 years of experience and firsthand control of the aircraft,” Zipkin adds.
Others are ready to respond to these new and changing needs of this recently developed market, but are also certain not to lose the service they hold so dear.
“New demand is bringing more attention to the space, though we haven’t seen an impact on our business, as our clientele desire a more personalised and local touch with vigorous safety standards. If, or when, the client prefers an Uber approach to the relationship and service Jet Linx provides, we’ll be ready to respond accordingly due to the hi-tech infrastructure driving our company today,” says Jamie Walker, president and CEO, Jet Linx.
And even the jets themselves are looking at the way consumers are changing the whole private aviation industry.
“Charter operators in the US, Brazil and Europe are already consulting with us to identify these opportunities, beginning with fleet rationalisation, route selection and market targeting to focus on premium passengers,” says Marco Tulio Pellegrini, president and CEO of Embraer Executive Jets.
Embraer supplies owner-pilots and fractional fleet operators with their Phenom jets since “they are designed for 1,200 annual flight hours for 30 years, high utilisation, high availability, and low operating costs, in addition to premium comfort and outstanding performance”, Pellegrini says.
“On-demand travel is the essence of business aviation, symbolising the freedom of mobility to serve a business requirement, an urgent life matter or even a spontaneous life desire,” he says.
He adds that the accessibility of business aviation to a broader base of customers is not a new demand or opportunity, but the bridge over the vast span between business and commercial aviation must be expanded to deliver aviation services to more companies, executives and professionals who will recognise the tangible productivity gains of non-stop business from affordable premium transportation solutions. And so in 2015, the airlines in the US served close to 800 million passengers, while business aviation tallied only 2 million passengers.
And in Asia, the trend is slanted towards the business traveller with the tiger economies of Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia and Cambodia sparking their huge manufacturing booms and attracting investors.
“Execs are regularly taking multi-leg, inter-Asia trips to oversee their various operations,”Jackson says. “Our easy access, on-demand and fully transparent private jet charter service puts non-stop clients in total control. They save time by avoiding Asia’s busy commercial airports, travelling when and how they want to maximise the productivity of their visit.”
In fact, the Chinese business aviation market is growing exponentially – according to Embraer, the operators have increased almost fourfold over the past four years. “We have witnessed the first wave of upgrades and replacements of old business jets,” Pellegrini says. And then there is the latest wealth report by Hurun Report that says there are now 562 billionaires in China and 500 new airports coming by 2020. A perfect storm, or rather, blue sky.
And so it is absolutely evident that there’s no sign of this type of private jet charter slowing down. Sit back, order Champagne and don’t worry too much about anything as you hit the skies without that seat back problem or a long line – wherever you’re going.
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