Sick of cramped planes, delays and scuppered travel plans? Scott Manson discovers that flying privately might be just the ticket….
Tara Palmer-Tomkinson’s definition of hell was, famously, “having to turn right when entering an aircraft.” Right, as anyone who’s ever flown knows, leads to cramped seats, DVT and terrible food, while what lies left is a comfort level several stratospheres above the so-called ‘cattle class.’
Yet despite the massive premium paid by first and business class passengers, the fundamental problem with flying on all commercial airlines is that, wherever you sit, the journey time remains the same. Sure, you might get a free limo to the airport, a neck massage and the chance to linger at the lounge a little longer before boarding, but you’re still at the mercy of slow airport security and the fact that any one of your fellow passengers could somehow hold up your journey.
For those heading off on holiday for a week or two, a few hours delay is a nuisance. But if you’re on a short break, a business trip or traveling to your second home for a relaxing long weekend with the family, losing time to delays can put a dampener on the whole trip.
There is a way to avoid the airport, travel in style and cut your journey time in half. You simply fly privately – a solution that has been steadily growing in popularity over the last decade. This demand has led to increased price competition among private operators and a subsequent rise in those customers using private aviation to access their weekend retreats.
Quite simply, flying privately is the fastest, safest and most efficient method of air travel. This is, in part, due to the fact that private jets can fly to smaller airports that are either not served by commercial operations – indeed, it’s estimated that 90% of the world’s airports are only available to private aviation – or which require two or more legs in a journey.
“Private aviation is a powerful time-saving and efficiency tool for corporations and individuals,” says Marine Eugene, director of sales for NetJets Europe, the world’s biggest private aviation company, backed by Warren Buffett. “It also provides a secure, private means of travel that many businesses and individuals require. We hear of constant success stories from our Owners about significant deals won thanks to the reactivity and the responsiveness that they displayed with the use of our services. One of our clients was recently going through an IPO and raved about how NetJets followed every step of the deal, making his road-show and launch preparations much easier.”
Although once regarded as playthings of the rich and famous or symbols of excess, the retreat from global recession has seen business jets become a far more common sight at airports. The UK, for example, now boasts the second largest registered fleet of business aircraft in Europe, with a total of 503, with Germany claiming a fleet of 621. Investment bank JP Morgan is also forecasting an 8% rise in global deliveries this year.
So who is driving this growth? For charter specialists Chapman Freeborn, there are three sectors that are consistently strong at the moment according to Julie Black, the company’s head of VIP and Executive Charter Division.
“The oil and energy sectors are strong, as the world looks to source new natural resources. We regularly move executives in oil, gas and mining sectors who appreciate our presence in Russia, Asia, Africa and South America. Also online and virtual business as executives of varied technology sectors seem to move from one side of the globe to the other with some frequency,” she says.
“We’ve always had a resonance with the music and live entertainment sector too. The financial model for the music industry has completely changed and artists now seek the greater revenue that comes from touring and associated merchandising. Now they tour not only in Europe and the USA, but increasingly into the emerging markets of Asia, Middle East, Russia, South America and Australia and again, as a global entity, this is where we are well placed to work with them, as our service and approach is consistent no matter where in the world they are.”
In terms of the business model, one growth area is jet cards, where individuals or companies buy a pre-paid card typically offering 25 hours flying time – arguably a better use of company funds than buying a private jet outright. Apart from having no maintenance or running costs, it also allows users to switch cabin sizes if necessary.
Elsewhere, UK aviation company Returnjet has set up an innovative online hub for private jet operators which draws together availability from a host of charter companies, offering real-time flight availability to the end user by delivering enquiries directly to the operator’s phone and inbox. The resulting optimisation of fleet movements and increased utilisation of empty legs (where jets fly empty en route to or from pick ups) inevitably lowers the cost of global private jet travel.
Director of Business Development for North America, Christian Betke, explains: “The beauty is in the simplicity of the business model. Returnjet provides the public a realtime match of best jet at best price for whatever travel plan they search for. We connect operators with new business, free of fees, subscriptions and marketing costs. All we do is introduce, and if the operator does the business, we charge them 3%.”
Captain’s Choice is another operator that has come up with some innovative proposals for potential customers. One of these sees them organising unforgettable tours, all done from the comfort of a private plane of course. One of these, the Circumnavigation of the World Tour, takes in several World Heritage Sites, so that guests can tick a number of destinations off their travel bucket list.
Gary Bartelings, general manager of Captain’s Choice, points out that theirs is a surprisingly diverse customer list. “They range from the wealthy retired former captain of industry who finally has the time to travel for leisure in style, to couples who have finally decided to sell the country pile and are, quite literally, spending the kids’ inheritance,” he laughs.
“We have experience in more than 185 countries and choose places that are off the beaten track and where an escorted tour is preferable, if not essential. We also offer expedited customs and immigrations which means that we can limit the time you spend at the airport. Oh, and there’s a private chef on board, so no more airline food, and the champagne flows from the moment you step on board the plane until the moment you disembark!”
Of course, even in the rarified world of private aviation, there remains a degree of one-upmanship. That light jet might be fine for a short hop to the villa but, after you’ve spent a bit of time at the UK’s smaller airfields checking out other business jets, you’ll soon be hankering after one of those sleek, ultra long-range Global 6000 aircraft, which have recently entered the NetJets fleet.
Private flying is shaking off its tag of billionaires, football players and playboys, although many still regard it as a decadent luxury. However, next time you’re shuffling through airport security, clutching your shoes and holding your belt-free trousers up while hearing the tannoy announce yet another delay to your flight, keep in mind that there is an alternative. And boy, is it fun!
Scott Manson is the editor of Tempus, a luxury watch publication.