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Private Jet Travel Takes Off

Those who previously flew business and first class are switching to private jet travel as a safer option. 

Laucala, a billionaire-owned island in Fiji

With its powder white beaches and azure waters, Fiji, which recently declared itself COVID-free, has been welcoming passengers with open arms. As long as they can rent a private island and fly to it via private jet. “If you’ve taken all the necessary health precautions and borne all associated costs, you may have a new home to escape the pandemic in paradise,” Fiji’s Prime Minister Frank Bainimarama said on Twitter last month.

According to press reports, around 30 Ultra High Net Worth Individuals (UHNW) last month took him up on the offer, flying into Fiji via private jets with the intention of staying for several months. 

Seychelles last month announced a similar policy. International tourists can come on holiday in the archipelago, but only deep-pocketed visitors for now, according to Seychelles Nation. “Only visitors traveling on private jets and chartered flights, and who will be heading off directly to remote island resorts, will be allowed in,” said the publication.

The Aman Private Jet on the runway

It is clear that for the foreseeable future, at least until a vaccine is widely-available, private flying combined with high quality, low-density resorts will be the preferred type of vacation. This is not to say that the industry wasn't in the doldrums when lockdown first hit, and is still in recovery mode. 

According to a white paper from Argus International, an aviation services provider based in the US, in April 2020 charter jet flights were down by nearly two thirds on the previous year. But May 2020 recorded an 84 percent increase in activity from April in North America, and June is looking just as strong, said Argus.

And those in the industry say green shoots are evident. NetJets, the shared ownership company which provides a good proxy for the overall US industry, making up about 1 in 7 private jet takeoffs/landings in the US daily, reported a dramatic uptick in new prospect calls and website inquiries since March. Those increased volumes have not subsided since, said a representative.

Its April year-to-date new lead volume was up 60 percent year-on-year, and up 100 percent in May, according to a NetJets representative. "New first-time customers signing up with NetJets this month more than doubled what we would typically see in the month of May and this was our biggest month since December 2007, the previous high water mark for the private aviation industry," he said.

"What we are seeing today is predominantly personal travel with people traveling to see loved ones, moving between homes or otherwise looking for an escape from wherever they have been hunkered down through the pandemic," he added. He added that clients are reassured by the fact that the company, backed by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway, is spending over US$1m a month keeping aircraft interiors clean and virus-free.

It has brought in a healthcare partner called MedAire; all NetJets aircraft replace cabin air with fresh, outside air every two to four minutes. By comparison, most office buildings only do this every 15 to 20 minutes. "Those added costs may be a heavy lift for [other private jet] companies that are struggling to make payroll today," said the representative. 

Private Jet industry's recovery (c) Argus International

Streamlined Service

Health and safety is paramount and in the private jet world, a disinfectant called Babocan Spray Medair UPK is being hailed as the Holy Grail of cleaning agents. Aman Private Jet, part of Aman Resorts, says it ensures the gallery, cabin and cargo compartments are disinfected with Bacoban before and after use. "Hand sanitizer is offered on boarding the jet as well as throughout the journey. Masks and gloves are worn by the crew and we offer passengers the option too should they want to wear them," says Roland Fasel, COO on Aman Private Jet. "After a flight all blankets and cushions are dry cleaned," he adds. 

Indeed those hotels that own their own private jets - like Aman, and Anantara, which has a partnership with MJets - and can arrange luxury transfers to and from them will benefit as many guests will be looking to reduce the number of touch points. Since the start of COVID there has been an increase in enquiries, says Fasel, particularly for short haul journeys both from people staying at Aman and at other hotels. It has taken passengers from London to Amanzoe in Greece, Amanruya in Turkey, Amanjena in Morocco and Aman Sveti Stefan in Montenegro, all with flexible travel dates.

Meanwhile UK-based concierge, Nine is offering an anti-lockdown jet-to-yacht transfer offer for the summmer through agencies PrivateFly and Cecil Wright. With prices starting from €400 per person including VAT, guests can fly to and from airports including Nice, Naples, Milan, Olbia, Cagliari, Tivat, Budva (Montenegro), Dubrovnik (Croatia), Athens, Mykonos, Santorini (Greece), Malaga and more.  

Guests will be greeted at the aircraft - usually a Citation XLS or Embraer Legacy 600 - by a masked and gloved host and escorted to the private terminal for customs formalities, if necessary, whilst remaining two metres away from other people, explained Timmy Coles-Liddle, founder of Nine. They will be escorted to a transfer vehicle, typically, a sanitised Mercedes S Class driven by a gloved and masked driver, offered a Personal Safety Kit (mask, disposable hypo-allergenic gloves, hand sanitiser), and then after arrival at the destination airport, and can be helicoptered to their yacht. 

Inside a NetJets jet (c) NetJets


Swiss former-billionaire Thomas Flohr, who owns an 80 percent stake in private jet charter company VistaJet, said in a recent article the group has bounced back to around 85 percent of its pre-pandemic traffic. Much of the demand has come from new clients - predominantly entrepreneurs and business people seeking alternatives to commercial flying. VistaJet prides itself on having the world's largest charter fleet (over 70) of Bombardiers. Like Nine, it has also established a jet-to-yacht service after requests from clients wanting to get to their yachts safely for the summer. 

Ian Moore, COO of the Malta-based company, says the frequency of business travel has bounced back first with leisure travel to follow. "Additionally, we will see a shorter booking window since people will be planning for the short term over booking trips far into the future," he said. 

Like NetJets, VistaJet also uses Babocan after all its flights and requests a travel history and self-declaration from all passengers who have traveled to/from any affected areas in the last 30 days. This declaration provides a travel history to be presented to the port of arrival authority as well as placing legal liability on the passenger for any falsified information.  "This will be the new normal," says Moore.