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Up, up and away with private flying

In a sure sign of a resurgent economy, private jets are taking to the air again

Generally, in any kind of economic catastrophe, the first thing to go and the last thing to return is the private jet. During the pandemic, this was flipped on its head and as countries went into lockdown and restrictions came in, travellers could fly around last minute, on a private jet, right up to midnight on the night of a restriction coming in. Equally, when a country opened its borders, people could go straight to the airport and take off within hours of that happening.

Andy Christie, group private jet director for Air Charter Service, says private jet charter customers are generally aged 60 plus and are usually retired, wealthy individuals who unfortunately were also prime candidates for contracting Covid-19.

“They were very cautious about travelling and a private jet offered the best opportunity to separate yourself from the number of interactions in a commercial flight which can be up to 600-700 interactions. A private jet means you can be taken directly to the door of the aircraft, crew don’t physically touch passengers, it’s a very sterile environment. For that reason we got an enormous influx of first-time customers,” Christie says.

Before lockdown, out of all the people who could afford to fly privately, only 10 per cent actually did. “People came out of their shells and have experienced chartering an aircraft and there’s an element of changing habits now, it’s hard to go back. Financially there is a big difference but what you get in terms of flexibility and service, there is no comparison,” he says.

Being able to change your flight or destination in a matter of minutes was one such luxury afforded to private jet users. “Ninety-nine per cent were leisure fliers, going to second houses or going to see relatives. They used to travel a great deal and all of a sudden that stopped and they were cooped up and itching to get away,” he says.

While leisure travel resumed the second a country reopened, business travel was stopped dead in its tracks. “That ability to visit other offices or sites, you couldn’t do it. But business travel started to come back in this year with people able to visit factories or facilities. For example, if you want to do a tour of nine to 10 cities over the course of a week, on commercial travel that’s a 10-day exercise but with a private jet you can cover that off very quickly,” he adds.

The high demand for private jets for both business and leisure travel has never been seen before, Christie says, but while demand went through the roof, supply remained the same. In fact there was a small reduction in the number of aircraft in operation during the pandemic.

“Most private jets have a wealthy owner and they give it to a management company to rent out when not in use but during Covid, they didn’t want to risk someone with Covid getting on it, or if their crew got sick they couldn’t fly the owner. And aircraft aren’t like cars, you can’t just churn them out,” he says.

Exjets is another company providing enhanced travel experiences to customers , guaranteeing access to a large range of private jets to lease to and from destinations worldwide.

“We guarantee an exceptional service from the initial planning phase to closely following the progress of every flight while staying in contact with our customers, pilots, handling agents and drivers. As part of our professional and personal service, we never compromise on safety. With our service there is no large financial commitment to pre-booking a number of hours on one fleet of aircraft,” Jim O’Sullivan, managing director of Exjets, says.

In the business 28 years, Exjets has survived challenging times having built long-term relationships with loyal customers and aircraft fleet owners. While the company did experience a significant revenue drop at the height of the pandemic, following this period its revenue grew from a tail wind benefit of many customers and new businesses who had health concerns about commercial air travel during Covid.

Exjets has a diverse base of customers travelling for business or leisure purposes. “Many of our individual customers and businesses need to fly at short notice and need a trustworthy service open for business 24/7 every day of the year.

“Many of our customers appreciate stress-free travel with swift passage through airports. One of the benefits for our customers is flexibility with the ability to get to and from a destination in one day with a choice of departure and arrival airports and complete privacy and security on board. Flexibility is key to our service,” O’Sullivan says.

Technology will have a positive impact on the private jet industry in the coming years, O’Sullivan says. “The industry needs to invest in skills, for example, blockchain and AI to keep pace with the changing workforce in managing the transition to automation. Technology already enables pilotless flights. Safety checks, loading and transport of freight will be automated progressively, bringing efficiencies for freight forwarders, and reducing costs for the airline industry,” he says.

Environmental performance of the aviation sector is also one of the key elements of society’s changing expectations and an element which becomes increasingly critical in a resource-constrained world.

"The Ukraine-Russia war will impact heavily on prices of oil increasing the cost of travel. This, coupled with a drive to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and use fuel efficiently, is a key objective for the industry. Rapid innovation will help the industry meet sustainability targets," he says,

A regular sight at events like the Galway races, helicopter taxis are also making a big comeback and major players in the event management space, such as Catapult events, can testify to that.

Even individuals on €150,000 might think, we haven't been out in two years, let's charter a helicopter, or to charter a private jet might be €6,000-€8,000 between 10 people

Des O’Leary, managing director of Catapult, says that while a mix of virtual and real-life events will remain, people are eager to get back into a conference hall or a field.

“For private jet use and helicopter taxis, you’re talking the higher end events, not your standard ticket holder going to a festival, but people going to Cheltenham or Galway races who are high rollers.

“As well as that, people have been pent up for two years and they have money to spend. They are the types of individuals who would use those modes of transport to get there. High rollers encompass a lot more people right now. There’s a lot of new money, for example, from tech companies. Even individuals on €150,000 might think, we haven’t been out in two years, let’s charter a helicopter, or to charter a private jet might be €6,000-€8,000 between 10 people. So it’s not that much money relative to how much they’re earning and it is part of the experience,” O’Leary says.

While not the type of thing companies might do to reward staff, as there is the sustainability factor to consider, it happens more with C-suite level.

Just to put it into perspective O'Leary says, "The last time I was in New York city I got a helicopter taxi because it took me 20 minutes to get to the airport and cost $180. It's not that big of a jump and it's part of the experience and is a bit of a novelty. While the cost is slightly higher in Ireland, it's not unaffordable. At the same time private aircraft are filling runways and they're not all millionaires flying them either," he says.