In the wake of Covid-19, private aviation has found a new client base. While commercial air travel remains significantly reduced and the newly coined “Germaphobia” trend grips the globe, a group of private jet partnerships for both yachting and travel are attempting to create “bubbles” that allow safe passage between home, aircraft, yachts or even African safaris.
PrivateFly reports an 85 percent increase in enquiries in the month of June, compared to the same month last year. These have come from trade partners in the yachting industry and from yacht owners or charterers “desperate to get back out on the water,” PrivateFly CEO Adam Tidwell told Robb Report. The enquiries also came from yacht brokers wanting to fly prospective customers to view yachts under construction.
“Initially, demand in May was notable for flights to Split, as Croatia was one of the first European countries to welcome back tourists,” said Tidwell. “We are now starting to see further demand into other yachting hotspots such as the French Riviera, and Palma.”
The rise in private aviation’s popularity is also driven by clients experiencing “challenges with access,” says Ian Moore, chief commercial officer for VistaJet, which launched its jet-to-yacht service in June.
“With a number of restrictions still in place during this time of uncertainty, those who own a yacht or are planning to charter one may be concerned about how they will reach it,” Moore says. “Business jets are the safest mode of travel under current circumstances.”
London-based private jet broker Colibri Aircraft estimates there are around 680 fewer person-to-person touch points when flying privately as there are on commercial flights. This statistic alone significantly increases the allure for what even ultra-high net worth individuals consider to be a costly mode of transport.
Aside from guaranteeing a smooth transfer, the private jet service offers “intelligence about how to fly safely and can take care of the clearance procedures,” Heesen Yacht’s Press manager Sara Gioanola told Robb Report. The Dutch builder has announced a VistaJet partnership to transfer clients from their homes to the shipyard. “It’s not just the flying itself, but the logistics behind it,” she says.
And the logistics need to be considered. Princess Motor Yacht Sales, the UK distributor for Princess Yachts, is offering a travel service to Spain and The Balearics with its partner Heli Air for customers who have yachts berthed there.
Uniesse Yachts has hooked up with Chub Cay Resort & Marina in the Bahamas and its long-term partner Makers Air. It offers clients direct flights from South Florida to the Out Islands. VistaJet’s jet-to-yacht transfer requires guests to fly to Malta and meet their yacht on arrival.
“The client will not have to deal with busy airport lounges or check-in queues. Just a limousine straight to the aircraft and a private flight with only their family and crew on board,” Emma Cotton, senior communications manager at Princess Yachts told Robb Report.
Princess’ guests fly from three UK airports (Gloucester, Southampton or High Wycombe) and have a choice between an M600 Single Turbine Aircraft or Citation Jet. The jets are fitted with a separate air system for the pilot to avoid sharing the same air with the customer, and both flight and yacht crew will have been tested for Covid-19, with strict hygiene measures put in place.
It’s not just yachting-related, either. The travel industry as a whole needs to “reimagine travel anew,” says Deborah Calmeyer, CEO and founder of Roar Africa, which offers a private end-to-end option with VistaJet for small groups traveling to Africa.
Likewise, Abercrombie and Kent charters jets for wildlife tours, National Geographic Private Jet Expeditions feature a specially configured Boeing 757 for up to 75 passengers and Smithsonian Journeys offers extended round-the-world tours by private jet, including tours of Easter Island and the Lost City of Petra.
The question remains whether the demand for private aviation is a knee-jerk reaction to Covid-19 or if it’s the dawn of a new era?
Daniel Ziriakus, president and chief operating officer of US brokerage house Northrop & Johnson, says his company began its partnership with NetJets back in 2014. He believes these partnerships demand a fully integrated business model, as well as dedication, work and funding to work. Ultimately, Ziriakus says, private aviation will be first choice for UHNWIs.
“These kind of partnerships don’t happen by putting on one event with NetJets and suddenly you have 20 new clients. It doesn’t work like that,” Ziriakus told Robb Report. “This requires a multi-year, long-term strategic approach to bring the companies closer together.”
After the Covid-19 pandemic took hold, Northrop & Johnson sent out surveys to 14,000 of its charter and sales clients to analyze the market changes. “We asked questions about all aspects of their lives, and the one, clear, and efficient response that came back was that people will fly private,” says Ziriakus.
Ziriakus wasn’t overly surprised because many clients had flown with NetJets for years. “We’ve had a significant portion of our database flying private. We knew this and really worked on developing this with NetJets,” he says. “But with Covid-19 happening, when the survey came back, there was an overwhelming amount of people going from commercial to private.”