Business aviation on the move
When should business flyers go private? Talking shop with Adam Twidell, chief executive of PrivateFly.com
Former RAF pilot Adam Twidell is a man who understands the needs of busy jetsetters. He used to fly planes for fractional-ownership jet firm NetJets and now runs an online marketplace for private charter aircraft that’s been called “the iTunes of aviation.”
Twidell, who started PrivateFly.com when it dawned that his industry was a hugely fragmented, offline marketplace, thinks that business travellers are wasting vast swathes of highly paid working hours by using only commercial aviation.
A recent survey conducted by his firm of 105 British CEOs and business leaders (of companies with a turnover of over £100M) reinforced his position, finding:
- Business leaders are wasting almost one working week per month by using ineffective travel methods [this is slightly misleading; the survey combined routine commuting with overseas travel to arrive at this figure].
- Airport delays and checks, the stress of arriving late at airports and missing family members are among the biggest frustrations about being away on business.
- Private jet travel is being chosen by 18 percent of the surveyed sample, who are becoming increasingly frustrated with traditional methods of transport.
- (On a side note, noise suppression headphones, medicine and condoms are among the must-have items that senior executives take away with them when they travel on business.)
Twidell is the first to underline that private jets don’t compete against airlines, but supplement them. His firm aims to educate the market that if you already pay business-class fares, and fly in a group, business aviation can be cost comparative.
Of course there are many other reasons to go private and, according to Twidell, it’s not about luxury, but about time saving. Two-thirds of business aviators fly between cities which aren’t paired by a daily commercial service.
“It’s about a company looking at the price they pay to have these execs on the road,” he explains; “how much they’re paying their board and whether they want them on the road for three days, or just one day at meetings and then back. If you’re paying your chairman three million pounds a year, you don’t want him in a queue at Heathrow.”
Many companies know this. EuroControl puts the number of business aviation flights in Europe at 693,500 in 2010, 7.3 percent of all aircraft flight movements, compared with 6.9 percent in 2009. Some of this growth has a year of disruption to thank; ash clouds, snow chaos and political strife is always a boon to the private jet industry.
Interestingly, during the recession, Private Fly found that the time between an enquiry, a booking and the actual flight dropped from a 10-week average to two days. People weren’t committing to a trip until they’d exhausted all the other airline options.
Conversely, fractional schemes also lose their lustre in a recession. “Buying travel upfront for a year or three years is something that shareholders or accountants are questioning, says Twidell. “Who would buy first-class tickets across the Atlantic a year ahead? Buying a private jet flight should be no different – you shouldn’t have to commit funds a year in advance.”
But because fractional schemes can be very cost effective, i.e. if you’re on a one-way flight in Europe’s extremities, “The really clever private jet customer now, who’s maybe doing 20 hours plus a year, is getting a 10-hour card with a company like NetJets and then comparing the fractional versus charter costs every time.”
“But if you’re based in London, and you’re doing a return trip every time, it’s nearly always cheaper to use someone else’s aircraft,” says Twidell.
Especially if that aircraft is flying sans paying customers. One of Private Fly’s operators is always charging around London on empty legs. A deal was made: for 100 pounds a seat, you can jump on board at Biggin Hill, for example, and jet for 25 minutes up to Luton. What better way, Twidell and I agree, to experience a private jet for the first time.
“Someone could take their young son, for example, as a special birthday treat.”
(Main caption:A Vistajet flight attendant prepares a breakfast in a Bombardier 605 aircraft prior to the opening of the Annual European Business Aviation Convention & Exhibition (EBACE) at Cointrin airport in Geneva May 17, 2011. REUTERS/Denis Balibouse)