As airlines face unprecedented disruptions due to the abandonment of air travel, the business of private jet operators is booming.
The appeal of private planes has increased since the start of the epidemic, amid fears of transmission of the Covid infection, large-scale flight cancellations and strict measures that have made travel on commercial flights logistically difficult.
“The impact of Covid has forced people to look for alternatives for their travel needs,” said Philip Scalabrine, director of the southern European branch of private international airline VistaJet.
“Anyone who can afford it would rather have a full aircraft at their service,” he added, adding that “private aviation as a whole has seen a huge increase in demand over the last two years.”
Figures issued by the air traffic regulator “Eurocontrol” confirm the matter.
The authority found that the private jet travel sector doubled its market share globally between 2019 and 2021, when it reached 12%.
Well-being even for animals
Inside the latest aircraft to join the VistaJet fleet, the Global 7500 manufactured by the Canadian company Bombardier, Scalabrini reviews what it would be like to travel by plane in this exclusive market.
On board the luxury plane, which costs 72 million dollars (65 million euros), customers can enjoy leather seats and a large double bed, in addition to tasting different wines.
And to reduce travel fatigue, cabin pressure can be adjusted better than on commercial flights, allowing customers to sleep comfortably “as if they were in their room at St. Moritz, the luxury Swiss resort,” he says. Scalabrini.
Your pets can also enjoy in-flight luxury, as toys and snacks are provided upon request.
With annual contracts starting at €500,000 ($500,000), VistaGate targets wealthy individuals and business and financial leaders, with a growing number of people working in the technology sector.
“Obviously, we see the evolution of customers following the macro trends that we’re seeing around the world,” Scalabrine said.
The epidemic was the most influential factor in increasing demand, with Scalabrini saying last year’s “Covid effect” helped VistaJet increase the number of travel hours sold by 90 percent.
The company, founded in 2004 by Swiss billionaire Thomas Flor, last month announced the purchase of Air Hamburg, a move it said would help it increase its flight hours by 30%.
But the announcement came just 3 days before Russia launched its attack on Ukraine and Western countries imposed a series of harsh sanctions, triggering a panic in the markets and causing a significant spike in oil prices.
Scalabrini said it was still “a bit early” to determine the impact of the crisis on his company. “Currently, unfortunately we cannot travel to Russia or Ukraine, so there is an impact, but it is small,” he said.
He noted that Russian customers primarily contributed less than 5% of VistaJet’s revenue, emphasizing: “We have customers all over the world.”
Private jet companies may be able to avoid the crises that plague commercial aviation today, but face the same criticism over air travel’s role in climate change.
A flight in a private plane generates 10 times more pollution than a commercial flight, according to the NGO “Transporte y Medio Ambiente”.
In the long term, environmental issues will be among the biggest challenges for business air travel, according to Philip Berland, air transport specialist at Sia Partners, a consultancy.
However, Berland said the more pressing short-term issue will be how well the sector can absorb high oil prices and whether private jet companies will be able to keep the customers they gained during the pandemic as commercial flights return. to normal.
“In this sector, where travel time is very expensive, price is not the only factor,” he said, noting that some new customers may get used to the ease and speed of departure on private planes.
For his part, Pascal Fabre, an aviation expert at the “Alex Bartenbs” consultancy, explained that the sector is not much affected by the rise in oil prices.
He said “the fuel bill is not a problem” for someone who can buy a plane for “tens of millions of dollars.”