Words by Kirstie Pickering
The travel industry has been severely affected by the pandemic, but business aviation continues to power through the problems Covid-19 poses to operations. Some commercial flyers that once opted for business class have turned to private aviation, finding comfort in the reliability and safety that it can offer. But as life returns to some semblance of normal, the industry has new demands and challenges to embrace.
With the opening of borders and loosening of travel restrictions slowly last year, private aviation businesses found the confidence to launch new initiatives in the quest to attract new business.
Luxaviation launched Flyer in the business aviation market as a new player for chartered flights. Flyer aims to bridge the gap between commercial travel and business aviation, providing a service for changing traveler behaviors caused by the pandemic. The service consists of a fleet of turboprop aircraft strategically placed across Europe to address the needs of clients looking for a safe and convenient way to travel for both business and leisure.
“One of business aviation’s biggest value adds has always been that it connects the small airports and airfields the commercial carriers do not serve,” says Chris Goergen, project manager at Flyer. “Business aviation also has the benefit of being a safe transport option. For example, when you fly on a business aircraft, you know the other passengers, can avoid standing in crowded spaces, and you can be confident that the aircraft was properly cleaned.
“When the pandemic hit and commercial flights were grounded, more small and mid-range towns and rural areas found themselves without scheduled services. Add to this the increased concern about safety, and the case for business aviation was practically being made for us.
The companies operating in these communities were looking for alternatives, and business aviation was the clear choice. So, we decided not to let a crisis go to waste and launched Flyer.”
Since started in February 2021, Flyer has seen a steady increase in demand, which Goergen expects to increase further when travel restrictions are further lifted, scheduled carriers continue to operate reduced routes and safety and flexibility remain of paramount importance to customers.
“Once you fly business aviation, it’s hard to go back,” he adds. “By offering an incredible, flexible and safe service that takes you where you need to be, when you need to be there, we are creating a new class of loyal flyers – loyal not only to Flyer, but to business aviation.”
VistaJet launched its Dynamic Corporate Membership in late 2020 when the world was at the beginning of a second wave of Covid-19 cases. Amongst other perks, the membership offers the ability to sign up in one day, an option to pay in arrears, unlimited flying hours, and the guaranteed availability of additional aircraft, as well as the option to request two aircraft at the same time and double fly, or have an aircraft on standby. The membership was created in response to the changing demands of VistaJet’s corporate clients.
“There’s been incredible demand for our Dynamic Corporate Membership,” says Ian Moore, chief commercial officer at VistaJet. “With the reopening of borders and the return of international travel, we wanted to ensure businesses had a transparent and personalized solution that was right for them.
“Since the start of the pandemic, we have seen a surge of 49% in corporate interest across the globe as top executives seek to reconnect with their staff and customers to build up their businesses for the future. With our corporate membership, businesses and their top executives can access a number of flexible options that makes sense for them.”
Of the incoming requests made to VistaJet since the start of the pandemic, 71% have been from passengers who have not regularly used private aviation before. This high percentage emphasizes how corporate flight departments and private individuals are seeking guaranteed availability and service that can navigate the new travel landscape created by Covid-19.
It also shows that people are still actively seeking travel solutions to go about their business. While video conferencing tools such as Zoom provided an essential lifeline to companies during the height of the pandemic, an appetite for face-to-face interaction hasn’t been quashed by such convenience technology.
“Technology has kept the world moving throughout the pandemic in both business and our personal lives,” said Moore. “We know that the global workforce can work remotely, but in a global economy, building and maintaining relationships across borders and oceans is essential. Businesses need that level of personal interaction to get deals over the line.”
It is that demand for top quality, in-person service that inspired the launch of Suits on the Ground, a bespoke concierge service providing on-site service at FBOs and private jet terminals. Suits on the Ground is based at Essex County Airport, New Jersey but is offering its personalized concierge services worldwide.
Each tailored service aims to meet a client’s needs and can be scaled to fit missions for individual flights or large groups. Services offered include meet and greets, facilitating ground transportation, the movement of luggage and last-minute requests that may be impractical or even impossible for busy FBO staff and traveler arrangers to fulfil.
“I have always believed that the first and last hundred feet of every business aviation trip – the distance between the car door and the aircraft door at departure and arrival – are among the most important parts of a journey, and yet it is the most neglected,” says David Rimmer, cofounder of Suits on the Ground.
“With record breaking levels of flight activity, staff shortages throughout the industry, heavily scheduled crews and busy FBOs, it has become more difficult for passengers to get the personalized attention they deserve and expect – especially in the USA. My partners and I agreed that there was no better time than the post-shutdown to introduce Suits on the Ground.”
Rimmer believes that a recommitment to service and safety are key to the business aviation industry’s long-term health post-pandemic.
“Pent-up travel demand, an influx of new customers and the ability to increase prices to sustainable levels, coupled with the challenges facing airline travel, have given business aviation historic opportunities,” says Rimmer. “But strong demand and increased profitability are also a time to reinvest in our business.
“Service is a key driver in why travelers love flying privately, so we have to recommit to it both on and off the aircraft.”
While Suits on the Ground very much caters to executives traveling in person, Rimmer is more cautious about predicting the rate of recovery for business aviation to pre-pandemic times.
“There is no question that businesses benefit from face-to-face meetings. They enhance business relationships, show clients you care, give a deeper understanding of employees and operations in remote locations and enable more effective collaboration than is possible using Zoom or Teams,” he says.
“Ultimately, I think the future is bright for business aviation, but it may take people some time to recognize how much they have lost by relying on a virtual presence to run businesses, manage and grow relationships.”
A fresh start
The challenges of the pandemic have created a chance for business aviation to reset. Changes in customer expectations, a heightened awareness and interest in sustainability, and a new type of regular client all create both challenges and new opportunities.
“Preparing for the future is vital,” says Moore. “Across the industry, we are seeing a growing and sustained demand for private jet travel as more travelers turn away from long airport lines and crowded commercial flights, prioritizing safety and reliability.
“At this time, however, the private aviation sector is having to deal with a global labor shortage and supply chain issues. There is simply not enough aircraft supply or qualified talent to meet the unprecedented demand.”
While it is hard to know what the next five years hold, business aviation has already proved itself to be resilient, reliable and safe during a historic period in which unknowns were and are the norm. Capitalizing on the lessons learnt and the opportunities created by the pandemic could create an even stronger foundation for business aviation to reach and retain a bigger client base than ever before, as the world awaits the conclusion of almost two years of life with Covid-19.