The past few decades have seen a proliferation of companies operating in the private aviation field, with many of them coming up with new and original offerings that maximise convenience and minimise costs for clients, allowing them to select the one that best suits their individual lifestyle and needs.
But while the business mechanics have evolved, the popularity of the traditional charter models has endured. And a mainstay throughout that evolution has been 365 Aviation, a London-based brokerage with access to over 4,000 aircrafts across the world. We caught up with Chris Tofts, founder and CEO of 365 Aviation, to discuss why chartering continues to lead the field.
Superyachts: Can you start by giving us a quick summary of how the private jet charter sector operates and why it’s particularly popular with superyacht owners and charterers?
Chris Tofts: It’s particularly popular with superyacht owners and charterers because a charter broker will source an aircraft closest to the route required, and provide a range of options depending on the clients’ needs.
In contrast, if you own a jet, you face several restrictions, which include the aircraft having already flown with another family member / business partner or scheduled maintenance work. Furthermore, owning an aircraft means you’re faced with large overheads such as insurance, fuel, crewing, catering, maintenance and landing and handling fees.
Chartering is a cost-effective solution where you simply pay for the route you wish to travel, and which usually also encompasses the costs outlined above.
What are some of the key benefits of using a charter company rather than, say, joining a private jet club?
Most private jet clubs have a membership fee to join. However if you charter an aircraft you pay no upfront fees, you simply pay as you go. Some private jet clubs also have set routes and times, whereas when you charter a jet, you choose your own schedule, as well as having the freedom to choose which airport you depart from.
At 365 Aviation, we believe the benefits of luxury travel should allow you freedom and flexibility with your travel preferences. Using a private jet charter broker is a truly bespoke experience with the option to fly from any airport and to any destination, the opportunity to choose an aircraft to suit your budget and requirements, and to have the flight itinerary match your schedule, as opposed to vice versa.
Private jet clubs have been described as “The Uber Pool of the skies” – can you elaborate on that comparison?
Private jet clubs are a growing trend in luxury travel, essentially allowing members the opportunity to share the cost of private charter flights. The concept aims to make private jet travel more affordable, for those seeking the convenience and efficiency that it offers.
However, flying with a private jet club means that you have to be extremely flexible on your travel plans – be that airports, dates or times – as you have to be matched with other passengers flying to the same place as you. Additionally, some clubs only offer a shuttle service on pre-determined routes and aircraft, meaning that your destination may not be available at any given time.
Private jet clubs monitor flights and empty seats and then notify you via email when a seat becomes available, making it a much more automated process than private jet charter, where a hand-picked expert will talk you through the process and be on hand to answer any questions you may have. And the description of private jet clubs as “The Uber Pool of the skies” analogy also stems from the fact that you ‘ll be sharing the jet with other passengers, so chances are you’ll be flying with strangers and have no control over who you’re sitting next to on the flight.
Are you able to quantify the kind of savings that can be made by using a company like 365 Aviation rather than any of its relevant industry counterparts?
Charter brokers do still offer some great deals. Every time a private jet is booked for a one-way flight, an empty leg becomes available for the return journey, because the aircraft must fly empty to return to its previous destination and pick up its next set of passengers. This means that by booking wisely you could save 50 – 75% on the cost of a conventional private jet charter.
How have client demands changed over the years, in terms of where they want to fly to, the provisions they require, the customer service they like, etc?
The luxury destinations clients want to fly to have remained relatively the same. However where they fly from has changed over the years. We’ve seen an increase in the number of people booking private jets from Russia, the United States, and more recently China and India.
Clients now also expect Wi-Fi on board and some will only fly on aircraft that have the KA system which is the fastest available. Ipads with the latest movies and series pre-downloaded are now seen as standard for most passengers.
In regards to the provisions they require and the customer service they like, clients have realised the advantages of making the most of their charter manager, and we’ve had requests from one extreme to the other. From arranging an on-board beautician, a favourite dish from a Michelin starred restaurant, or smoked salmon from a particular delicatessen. Members of our team are frequently seen heading to Harrods or Selfridges to pick up all manner of products in order to guarantee that everything the client wants and needs is available to them at 30,000 feet.
We’ve had many wonderful and memorable experiences working with our clients – from buying 10 of the latest iPhone X’s to be flown half way across the world on launch day as they hadn’t been released in that country yet, flying a wedding dress to Biarritz after last minute alterations and bodyguards handcuffed to suitcases of priceless jewellery being flown directly to the red carpet.
What other innovations do you think could be made in your sector to improve convenience and time/money efficiency for private jet clients?
Many of the innovations that will really make a difference to our clients are the new technologies we are currently implementing around Customers Relationship Management. Most notably, a highly advanced CRM system, which ensures that bookings can be made faster and be better centred around the clients’ needs through automations and intuitive features.
What could be a real game changer for the industry is block chain technology. This would have to be adopted industry wide, but the implications on cost savings could be huge. You would be able to negate the fluctuations on FX Exchanges, and add fees if your aircraft breaks down as funds will only be released when specific pre-agreed criteria are met.
What is the most satisfying part of the job for you personally?
I have a great dedicated team and we all share the same core values - to provide the best service, and great attention to detail. When a client contacts us to say thank you for a great flight and that they’re looking forward to flying with us again, it gives us all a sense of satisfaction that we’ve helped the client to perform at their best.