When private aviation is the best way to get your company’s envoys to high-profile global events, careful pre-planning is critical
by: Kathryn B. Creedy
For a host of reasons, a growing number of corporate leaders are putting in appearances at global events that range from significant policy-making gatherings like the World Economic Forum and the UN Climate Change Conference to major sports events such as the Super Bowl and World Cup. The complexities of travel, often to difficult-to-access places like Sharm Al Sheik, Bali and Davos, mean corporate travel managers tasked with planning such trips cannot do it alone – they must form partnerships with private aviation and trip support companies along the way.
Detailed advanced planning is also required for big global occasions like the G20, the Olympics, Formula One Racing, film premieres and festivals. There are also heads-of-state missions such as the recent funeral of Queen Elizabeth II, overseen by the UK Ministry of Defense, the UK Civil Aviation Authority and the Palace. Charter demands are compounded by natural disaster relief such as is now occurring in the aftermath of the Turkey/Syrian earthquake, vaccine distribution or the critical role private charters played in personnel evacuations from both Ukraine and Afghanistan.
“This is not your standard flight,” cautions Mathew Borie, CIO of Osprey Flight Solutions. “You are not unique. You are competing with everyone else coming into a small location where governments have imposed operational constraints that will require expertise not only for the flight but with local contacts who can respond instantaneously to issues beyond an operator’s control. Most business aviation operators need trusted contacts with local vendors and government officials and trip support companies are best placed to provide that kind of service.”
With so many government-imposed operating restrictions and client requirements, coupled with heightened demand to secure available charter aircraft, trip planning companies are crucial to the success of such important missions.
Planning for the Extraordinary Even for normal trips, corporate demand is creating a tight market for private aviation, and projections are for that demand to continue rising. Indeed, according to a survey from Airbus, 80 percent of senior executives at US companies with annual revenue surpassing $500 million, reported they expect their organizations will increase their use of business aviation in 2023, with 25 percent suggesting it will rise by more than 50 percent. About 60 percent of respondents blamed continuing airline chaos and cited higher focus on their employees’ wellbeing for increasing private aviation use. So when it comes to these high-profile events, the list of available operators become very thin, very quickly. “The shortage of charter aircraft means planning as far in advance as possible,” says Wendi Matthews-Ortiz, vice president, executive aviation USA at Hunt and Palmer PLC. In addition, she explains, travel planners need to consider other factors that may also be in short supply.
“There is also high demand for handling at private aviation terminals (FBOs). You must ensure the FBO has fuel, border entry and meets traveler needs. For the first time in my 25-year career, I informed clients there weren’t any aircraft available at their price points. IATA does not expect airlines to return to normal operations until 2025.”
Matthews-Ortiz, who handles flight-related arrangements, indicates planning can be highly complex, driving a need for trip planning specialists who help navigate the rules from flight operations to health and hotel requirements before the trip even leaves the ground.
But there’s a Catch-22 in the planning cycle, says Kari Bigot, vice president passenger sales for the Americas at Chapman Freeborn. “A couple months out would be ideal,” she notes. “But for major events you’ll need considerable advanced planning because everything is booked and availability gets scarce as the event approaches. High-profile events cause airport parking spots and aircraft availability to sell out and cancellation penalties can be very steep.”
For example, the traffic at Super Bowl LVII, which attracted more than 4000 additional takeoffs and landings in the Phoenix-area airports in addition to more than 1,100 more parked aircraft, prompted the Federal Aviation Administration imposed traffic management initiatives extending from February 8 to 14, including a ramp reservations system for all arrivals and departures. Any deviation required new reservations.
Last year’s World Cup held in tiny Qatar triggered even stricter operating rules to cope with the 8,000 to 10,000 travelers per hour descending on the region. These included 1,300 business aviation flights. Similarly, the Davos World Economic Forum attracted 1,040 private flights to surrounding airports serving the elite Swiss resort.
Simon Moore, SVP commercial jets at Air Partner notes that during the World Cup, fans stayed in neighboring countries owing to extremely limited accommodations in Qatar which necessitated increased shuttle flights, further restricting slots and increasing airport congestion.
Knowing airport operating hours, noise and size restrictions and runway length are also key factors. “Depending on the event, booking as soon as dates and venues for the next year are announced wouldn’t be too soon,” says James Collas, operations director, UAS International Trip Support.
Government restrictions may negate one of the biggest benefits of private aviation – flexibility on flight planning, such as leaving on the passengers’ schedule or accommodating changes. For that reason, passengers must have realistic expectations.
“For the Queen’s funeral CAA basically said, you abide by our rules or you don’t come,” Collas says. “That is information a travel manager needs because the earlier you paint a picture of how the trip will unfold, the easier it is for planning and coping with any changes. When carrying corporate and world leaders, it's also important to know if a flight is operating diplomatically. The political clout of the passengers might mean they are operating under diplomatic permits which governs where you go and what happens. You need to know about alternate airports. With far more business aviation airports than commercial airports, the best option may not be the commercial airport. Flights can also often take advantage of military airports, which happened during the Queen’s funeral.”
Moore cautioned about arrival formalities and ramp freezes when world leaders arrive and depart which must be part of all planning or scheduling.
The airport question is mission critical, according to Chris Clayton, commercial manager for Private Jet Centre at London City Airport, an FBO, who adds it dictates how close the client can get to an event with the least amount of travel time. “This means knowing the actual location of an airport,” he says. “You shouldn’t always rely on the airport name to give an indication of where it is.”
For newcomers to business aviation, FBOs, or fixed base operators, are great advisors, so becoming familiar with how they work and the services they provide for clients is helpful. “One of the main attractions for business aviation is access to dedicated on-site immigration and customs teams at the FBO,” says Clayton. “It is essential to know what your clients will experience upon arrival, from disembarkation to immigration and customs clearance, and how they will progress onward.”
Flyjets founder and CEO Jessica Fischer agrees, noting that charter companies usually handle all the flight-related planning, distinguishing charter services from that of trip planning companies. “Travel managers should consider alternative airports which may save costs. The type of aircraft is important to the mission and needs to be able to accommodate not only the mission, but the passengers and luggage planned. That includes aircraft/operator specifications, operator safety, aircraft year of manufacture and seating plans. You also must consider specific inflight requirements, such as catering and WiFi connectivity, when booking.”
Collas says the usual charter questions apply. “We need to know how flexible a client is,” he says. “For instance, Bali has one runway, so we were forced to park elsewhere and bring in the passenger at the right time. That’s a case where you don’t have any choice, but that’s why we need a full exploration of the options during the initial request.” Finding the Right Partner Bigot advises ensuring a private aviation partner knows how to operate under these special conditions no matter where they happen in the world, adding it is imperative for the trip planner to know any changes and whether they can be accommodated given the precise operating requirements at major events.
“Plans change,” she says. “Proper planning may mean booking a second aircraft or an alternative airport for these just-in-case problems. We manage this by simultaneously applying for permits on a secondary aircraft as well as the primary so if an unexpected disruption happens, we simply switch out the aircraft.”
A private aviation partner such as Air Partner or Chapman Freeborn may have the answers, but a comprehensive response may also include support companies like UAS Trip Support, which combines its knowledge of government regulations and special operating requirements with that of the charter operator to ensure a smooth trip.
“You need to work with someone you can trust to tell you when something is not possible,” says Moore. “While an operator might say yes to attract your business, they might let you down later. It’s better to listen to candid response than the purely ‘yes’ responses.”
Global Hot Spots “It is incredibly complex to move aircraft and people, so engaging a trip support company that does everything for you makes it simpler for the travel manager. We help ensure all the providers for the trip are on the same page. Travel managers then have a document that puts it all together. You want to have a point of contact on the ground as things unfold.” Collas says the whole purpose of a company like UAS is providing the expertise and solutions for issues travel managers don’t know even existed. “This could be a client’s most important flight of the year, so you need a partner with experience both in handling flights, the region and personal contacts on the ground and in the government. They really need a partner that can do all that for them,” Collas says.
Other issues can add complications – and surprises, Bigot explains. “Some countries require a letter of invitation from the local government for the passenger to enter,” she says. “Some countries require documentation on aircraft, slot arrival time/parking, whether the passenger is flying into one airport and departing from another. Trip planners may have to explore traditional ground transfers and may want to consider the use of a helicopter. When planning an international itinerary, travel managers should take note if the flight will be longer to avoid certain air space. If a passenger is traveling with pets, they must have verification of vaccinations and the country’s requirements around quarantine. Trip planning incorporates all of this.”
The value of local representatives cannot be underestimated. Trip support companies will often be aware of the geopolitical environment at the destination, the reliability of local infrastructure, and law enforcement capabilities and whether traveling employees will need executive protection. Indeed, certain nationalities are high value targets and vulnerable while traveling abroad as seen with recent kidnappings around the world.
“You can’t just fly from one country to another to get to where you are going,” Collas says. “You need permission, and you need to know where local conflicts prohibit overflights. This isn’t just about war zones, it’s about two countries bickering over something that no one but those in the region know about. You need to be aware that government and corporate delegations tend to book whole floors not just rooms. Trip support companies will know where to stage the aircraft when on-site parking is not allowed as was the case for Qatar and during Queen Elizabeth’s funeral. In fact, aircraft parking and accommodations for Qatar were often in another country and knowing those requirements is critical. A key service is liaising with FBOs who may not understand the importance of the trip and need to provide fuel and other services. They may know it’s a VIP, but not the details.”
UAS provides an on-site local representative who can provide minute-by-minute updates by text or pictures. “Having a single point of contact streamlines communications and takes a tremendous burden off the corporate travel executive who now doesn’t have to handle all the requirement of governments, ground support and transport, hotel accommodations. That is all handled by the local representative,” Callas tells Business Travel Executive.
“Travel managers need to understand the level of safety, regulatory compliance and operating procedures the aviation service provider maintains,” Bigot adds. “Questions I ask when booking a charter include the type of clientele they serve and how diverse the service model is. Does the provider handle other air movements such as cargo, animals and humanitarian operations? This can determine its ability to pivot when needed.”
Whether it is an international sports event, environmental conference, a film festival, an industry-wide conclave, mid- and top-level managers require dependable transportation and travel managers are perfectly positioned to provide that guarantee by adding private aviation to the toolbox.