Five reasons to consider including private aviation as part of your air travel strategy
By Kathryn B. Creedy
There has never been a better time to use private aviation. The industry has options to fit every budget. Technology makes booking easier and new models offer discounted flight hours with a monthly subscription. These changes have introduced thousands to private aviation for the first time and resulted in corporations making it a part of their corporate travel strategy because they know time is money.
“Private aviation is busier than ever,” says Greg Raiff, Private Jet Services Group CEO. “It is a combination of things. Our customers know they are buying time and success. They are more interested in reducing the stress of their road warriors and providing a work-life balance Gen Xers and Millennials demand. We see this as the reason customers are getting younger. Companies know work-life balance is a key factor in employee recruitment. They also realize being more responsive to customer needs and the role business aviation plays in sales and marketing are good for the bottom line.”
1. Time Perhaps the most important reason to consider private aviation is time. Corporations use a mix of commercial and private travel because they no longer calculate their travel costs in dollars and cents alone. They seek the best way to serve the customer or ink a new deal.
Included in those calculations are airline-caused delays and cancellations resulting in 30 percent of all commercial flights arriving more than 15 minutes late, according to the Department of Transportation. The US General Accountability Office reported it may take two to three days to get to the destination because most flights are fully booked, putting travelers at risk of missed connections or otherwise failing to achieve the mission.
Passengers are also making private aviation choices for two reasons. It’s bad enough to waste company time, but travel disruptions also eat into what little vacation time they do take. In addition, filling a flight with a number of company employees might make it cheaper overall.
2. Security & Productivity The second most important reason for flying private is security and productivity, which will remain unmatched in any other mode of transportation until we get driverless cars.
Not being crammed into an airline seat means passengers can get real work done in the air. Business aircraft are designed as airborne offices with connectivity equal to that on the ground. That means they can stay connected to their office and clients and put in high-productivity work time. The privacy keeps prying eyes and ears away when colleagues are discussing sensitive issues or working on confidential materials.
It also means teams of sales, contracts or customer service people can arrive faster and better equipped for the task at hand for less than the cost of flying commercial.
3. Cost SavingsWhen people think private aviation, they do not think savings. And they would be right if they judge solely on costs.
“Corporations are rejecting this apple-and-oranges comparison in favor of examining what they are buying,” says Raiff. “Time is increasingly at a premium and travel disruptions make that worse because of the wear and tear from airline and security hassles as well as cattle car boarding. Furthermore, airline networks are designed for their convenience and profitability, not the passengers’.”
By comparison, business aviation includes a 15-minute walk from car door to a flight scheduled at the passenger’s convenience. Business aviation travelers also have access to the 5,000 airports that could be far closer to the actual destination compared to one of the 500 hub-and-spoke airports.
It also means the restoration of the out-and-back-in-one-day trip saving on hotel, meals and rental cars.
4. Hassle Factor United CEO Oscar Munoz recently stunned the industry when he said airlines make people mad. While that is well known, this was the first time an airline executive admitted it.
“It’s become so stressful,” he said, describing the experience of most travelers on any airline. “From when you leave wherever you live to get into traffic to find a parking spot and get through security, by the time you sit on the aircraft – you’re just pissed at the world.”
But it also describes the reason many companies elect to use private aviation. Tolerance for the airline hassles has evaporated, as has acceptance of the inefficient airport experience. Travelers can’t even take solace in mileage rewards as they continue to be devalued by the airlines to whom they are most loyal.
“Obviously, it’s hard to compare costs but for a company with numerous employees on a sales mission or to troubleshoot a customer problem, speed and flexibility are often part of the cost-benefit analysis – or should be,” Raiff concludes, cited a study that found business aviation users are far more financially successful than non-users. “Business aviation is a gateway to efficiency and productivity that flows straight to the bottom line.”
5. Duty of Care & DisruptionsAccording to International SOS, a global service for managing risks and evacuations, security threats account for over half (58 percent) of travel disruptions, followed by natural disasters (43 percent) and in-country risks (41 percent). For that reason, it is important to have emergency plans in place before you are confronted with an actual event.
“This type of planning can’t be an afterthought,” says Raiff. “It has to be part of the overall corporate travel management planning. The questions are numerous and start with how you are going to help your travelers manage evacuation with language and cultural barriers.”
Easier than EverHeadlines trumpet the creation of ‘Ubers of the Sky’ or promises of comfy seats on a private jet for less than a coach ticket. While the marriage of technology – the power of the app – and private aviation has revolutionized the industry, there is still a lot to know.
Digital on-demand companies have created apps capturing the available flights posted by operators globally. They allow travelers to submit flight requests to find the right flight at the right price. The ease of booking through business aviation apps has transformed what was a cumbersome process to a more pleasant experience compared to booking commercial flights.
In the US alone, 38 percent to 50 percent of all business aviation departures are to position the aircraft for the next mission, according to Inflight magazine, reporting on a study by Stellar Labs. Filling seats on these “empty legs” is perhaps the largest opportunity in private aviation for increasing revenue operators wouldn’t otherwise have while providing a discounted price to the passenger.
But empty-leg flying comes with risk, according to Doug Gollan, editor-in-chief of the independent business aviation consumer site Jet Card Comparisons. “You have to go into it with the understanding that the flight can be cancelled right up until takeoff. If you need to be someplace at a specific time, don’t rely on an empty leg,” he explains.
Gollan strikes a note of caution that applies regardless of apps or empty legs. “An app is just a communications tool, no different than an 800 number, e-mail address, fax or phone,” he warns. “Don’t be wowed by a fancy app. You need to understand the company behind it. Is it a broker? Is it an operator? If so, is it a managed fleet? Is it an owned fleet? What are their safety standards?”
Those questions are completely Greek to the passenger – with the sole exception of safety standards.
Play It SafeThere isn’t an aviation company that doesn’t say something like: Safety is our number one concern. But talk is cheap and running a safe, efficient operation is not.
Thankfully, the industry itself sets standards to help evaluate any company. The International Standard for Business Aircraft Operations (IS-BAO), developed by the International Business Aviation Council (IBAC), is a code of best practices designed to help flight departments worldwide achieve high levels of safety and professionalism. It is based on safety standards set by the International Civil Aviation Organization, the UN’s international governing agency, and is recognized by the US Federal Aviation Administration and its Canadian and European regulatory counterparts.
There are also independent auditing agencies, such as Wyvern and Argus International, which determine whether air charter operators are following safety standards and best practices by assessing risks and how companies mitigate those risks.
“No matter who you work with, the ultimate operator of the aircraft you fly should be compliant with industry standards or audited by Argus or Wyvern,” Raiff advises. “If a client chooses to fly with an operator who is not certified for whatever reason, it is up to us to ensure the client knows exactly what that means. Ultimately, it is up to the client to choose their flight based on a variety of options, but we help them through that decision-making process to make sure they fully understand.”
So as you search for a charter company, look for operators that subscribe to these auditing agencies and codes; it’s the equivalent of the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval for business aviation operators.
Despite the growing acceptance of business aviation, it remains confusing to companies approaching it for the first time, so Raiff has one final piece of advice when considering private aviation.
“Perhaps the most important thing someone new to private aviation should do is start out slow,” he says. “Do the cost-benefit analysis and include your time and your tolerance for airline/airport hassles and the associated costs. Find a well-respected charter company to advise you on choosing the right aircraft for the mission and to tailor the entire service to your needs and your budget. Then book a flight. Most corporations use a mix of commercial and private aviation so you should have this mindset: You won’t always fly private but when you do, you’ll know it is money well spent.”