Features

Corporate aviation: From the ground up

28 May 2016 by Tom Otley
Private planes

While travelling frequently may attract the envy of our colleagues and friends, much of our journeys are spent rather unglamorously in airports.

The need to arrive early for security reasons means that even those who have perfected the art of cutting it fine can spend hours hanging around in terminals. And if you are transiting through one of the world’s major hubs, you may well have several hours to kill between connections.

Private jet travel promises to do away with all of this. As Alex Berry, group marketing and sales director at broker Chapman Freeborn, has pointed out in these pages before: “Business aviation gives you the one thing that no one else can – the opportunity to exchange an infinite resource – money, which you can always go out and earn more of, for a finite resource – your time, which you’ll never get more of.”

One of the main selling points of going private is that you don’t have to wait around. You book your jet, turn up wherever you’ve asked for it to be, step on board and within a few minutes are on your way. But if it’s all about spending as little time as possible at the airport, does it matter what the terminal is like, or even if there is one at all?

“The ground experience is the less sexy bit when it comes to private jets,” says Carole Cork, sales and marketing director at broker PrivateFly. “Private jets fly roughly at the same speed as airliners but the ground part is where you can save up to five hours of travel time on a typical return flight within Europe.”

Of course, there are many different types of business customers, as Brandon O’Reilly, chief executive of TAG Farnborough airport, points out. “There are the executives who want to be airborne as soon as possible, and that’s what the airport has been designed for since it’s business aviation only, and we are not competing with traffic from commercial airlines or flying schools.”

But that may not be ideal for those who want a calm, pre-flight environment where they can work. Or a group of colleagues who have chartered an aircraft, and need somewhere to wait for each other before they travel.

For that reason, Farnborough has recently spent an extra £1 million on its facilities, including a first-floor lounge with airfield views and space for 80 passengers, dedicated crew rooms with “snooze facilities”, plus a gym and showers. This might help to sell private flights to a new segment of customers – charter company Victor says that 34 per cent of its bookings are from customers who have never flown privately before.

For business people, the advantage is clear – you can fly in, have your meeting away from prying eyes, then fly back out again. Equally useful are the facilities for crew, since you want them to be rested and on top of their game if they are flying you around the world.

FINDING YOUR BASE

In Europe, there are ten times more airports that can be used by private jets than by airlines (3,000 versus 300). London ranks as the number-one city for private jet activity in Europe, and is served both by the well-known facilities (Luton, Stansted and London City) and the lesser known (Fairoaks and Blackbushe, anyone?).

You can’t talk about private jet operations without hearing about FBOs (fixed base operators) – the companies that run private jet terminals at airports. They perform a variety of services, including flight preparation, fuelling, security, ramp services and catering. For the passenger, this might seem like too much detail, but if you are shelling out for a private jet, you may want to know who is providing ground services, and what you are being charged by them.

So how should you go about choosing your airport? PrivateFly’s Cork says: “The key factors are price, location, preferred service/FBO brand, and the day and time you want to fly, since many airports around London are not 24-hour and are restricted at the weekends. More bespoke needs are whether you want to travel with pets, since only certain airports can offer this.”

Landing and handling fees differ substantially by airport, and come into the mix when customers are choosing which facility to use, or when travel bookers or brokers are arranging flights for their clients. The cost levied by the airport makes up part of the all-inclusive charter flight cost that you pay, and so choosing Biggin Hill or Stansted over London City (LCY) might mean a saving of up to £2,000 on an overall quote – although I was told by a LCY spokesperson that the airport had recently reduced its landing charges to encourage more traffic.

Costs are also determined by whether the aircraft is already based at an airport or has to position in and out. This is one of the reasons LCY is more expensive – being such a restricted airport in terms of size, it doesn’t have a lot of space for jets to park up.

SHRINKING THE JOURNEY TIME

Choosing the right location means shorter ground transfer times and getting the traveller closer to where they want to go, or closer to home.

TAG Farnborough’s O’Reilly emphasises that his facility is in the M3/M4 corridor, and also points out the advantages over Heathrow. “If you fly to Heathrow, you will be coached or transferred to a terminal building, you might land at a satellite and have to take a shuttle back, and you have immigration and a wait for your bags, all of which might add 45 minutes or an hour,” he says. “At Farnborough, immigration comes to your aircraft and will serve you on board or in the vehicle at the bottom of the steps. So you can be on your way within minutes of pulling on to the stand.”

London City’s Private Jet Centre is a favoured destination for bankers heading to the Square Mile. Its “90 second” promise – that you can pull up, go from airside to landside and be on your way in a minute and a half – is achievable, with dedicated security and immigration, plus chauffeur vehicles to speed you across the airport. The centre has also refurbished its lounge.

The map below shows some of the options around London, but is by no means exhaustive, and doesn’t include others, such as Denham Aerodrome, accessible by smaller jets. You would need a much larger map to show the hundreds of sites up and down the country, or the thousands across Europe.

For those who get a taste for corporate aviation – if they get lucky, and their employer decides it’s necessary – going back to the long lines of commercial airports is not going to be easy.

News update

DELTA AIR LINES is targeting the private market with its Delta Private Jets subsidiary. As well as selling regular charters, it now offers a private jet card with an initial purchase of US$100,000 to US$500,000 – you can earn ten Delta SkyBonus points per dollar spent. The flights can also work in conjunction with regular Delta services, with chauffeur-driven Porsche cars taking you from one domestic flight to the next, missing out the terminal experience altogether.

JETFLY is a fractional ownership programme allowing individuals to buy anything from a 1/8th share (62.5 hours per year) to a 50 per cent share (250 hours per year) of an aircraft from a pool of 20 twin-piloted Pilatus PC-12s (single turbine propeller aircraft). These have either six or eight seats and, because they can land at a lower speed, they can access altiports and grass runways, giving them access to everywhere from Goodwood to La Mole near St Tropez. A monthly management fee applies (Jetfly has 70 full-time pilots) and there is guaranteed availability within Europe at 24 hours’ notice. The aircraft could fly from London to as far as Marrakech with four passengers. The cost per occupied hour is e1,800.

VICTOR is best known as the Uber of private aviation, with its sleek app and website for booking empty legs on jets. Its Victor for Business corporate travel arm has seen it set up a partnership with travel management company CTI, giving the latter’s clients access to more than 7,000 aircraft worldwide.

PRIVATEFLY has opened a US office in Miami. The company, established in Europe in 2008, says the launch is a step forward in its ambitious US growth plans, following strong sales over the past two years. The new team, at Fort Lauderdale International airport, will handle US client flight sales for any global route.

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