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PERSPECTIVES – Business aviation through the eyes of the charter broker: Daily grind that puts industry between a rock and a hard place
The charter broker's daily grind smooths the rough edges out of the lives of clients. Pál László of Air Connect Hungary says that the charter broker must relish the challenge of working between a rock and a hard place.

The charter broker's daily grind smooths the rough edges out of the lives of clients. Pál László of Air Connect Hungary says that the charter broker must relish the challenge of working between a rock and a hard place. "It is a paradox but for those who like terribly stressful activities, it is a relaxing place to be because we face changing situations every day – sometimes even every minute.

"We work between the two millstones of the client's demands and the aircraft operators' practices. It is definitely a stressful job. You have to be not only a salesman and an aviation expert but a good travel organiser and sometimes an accomplished diplomat to achieve a workable win-win deal."

Air Connect Hungary works mostly on the Eastern European market, where all countries demand a different speciality. László says: "To the north we feel clients are more experienced, in the middle they are more price-conscious and to the south and east they focus more on size and quality of aircraft."

Emre Islek, md of Istanbul's AFDair, says that much difficulty and stress can be avoided if a charter broking company is properly organised and understands and responds efficiently to the way in which different people and organisations want to do business. Diplomacy is a key quality.

"If a client's heart is set on an unsuitable aircraft you have to find diplomatic ways of making them understand the market and its realities," Islek explains. Charter operators who prove difficult to work with should be avoided.

Alison Wressell of Private Jet Charter says the company's brokers report that clients in different countries inevitably have different ways of going about things. Arabic clients are quite forceful and are not afraid to negotiate hard – they prefer larger vip aircraft and know what they are willing to pay.

"The Russians are similar and we do have to deal with clients changing their mind about their destinations and aircraft at the last minute, they always like to have several options to mull over.

"European clients are pretty reasonable in their negotiating and with their expectations. The Americans have an altogether different perspective on the market as private jets are not seen as 'exclusive' or a specifically vip choice, due to the prominence of the air taxi market. Often they have no idea of the price of a charter, and are surprised when they find out!"

But she says: "The lifestyle is pretty reasonable to be honest. When on call in the evenings and weekends it can be relatively stressful and tiring. The last thing you want is someone calling you at three in the morning with a 'go now' to Caracas – Quito Ecuador or something but I'm sure there are jobs out there that are far worse."

Wressell says some charter operators are proactive and helpful and genuinely want to provide the best service they can. "These actually tend to be the smaller operators – the larger companies seem recently to have developed a bit of an over-confidence that makes them less helpful. Detailed and accurate information is what will always make an operator stand out."

Her colleague Olga Sevcuka says: "It is very interesting to note how different the Russian clients are to work with from European clients. Russian clients like to work with people that they can trust and who speak their own language, so personal recommendation is a good way of ensuring this.

"It is often the case that Russian requests we receive have a very short lead-in time, meaning that choice of aircraft availability can sometimes be challenging, as the Russian clients always prefer to utilise heavy jets such as the Challenger 605 or Legacy aircraft, even if there are only one or two passengers travelling. Also the year of manufacture of aircraft is very important. For example, it would be rare for one of our Russian clients to entertain the idea of booking an aircraft pre-2005, they always prefer the later models."

Catarina Martins, md Blue Heaven Portugal, says: "I would say that I have a good lifestyle, even if I am on duty 360 days a year. The mobile phone must be switched on 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Is that stressful? For some people I believe so." Carl de Verteuil, md of Ascent Jet, which back in 2006 launched an e-commerce web site that enabled clients to book flights direct by credit card, says the business priority is to get a signature at the bottom of a flight confirmation.

"But to generate that initial request for offer, you've already done a considerable amount of lobbying, cold calling, networking – call it marketing if you like – to get the word out there! It also helps to have a well-designed website without any of those tedious flash introductions that you always press the 'skip Introduction' button on."

He adds: "A good broker locates the best solutions at the most competitive prices for a given flight profile. It is far better to work with an established client base where the relationship is built on trust and where competitive pricing and consistency in offering optimal solutions are the names of the game."

A broker generally works with a limited number of operators. In cases where new operators are solicited, there is some due diligence to be done. De Verteuil adds: "Once my clients are in the air with minimal delay, I breathe a sigh of relief in the knowledge that my job is mostly done. So a broker's daily lot is not too bad if you thrive on a bit of stress, if you like the unpredictable nature of the business and if you like working with a host of different nationalities and cultures."

De Verteuil says: "Most charter operators I work with are very cooperative. This goes back to what I said earlier about having to do some due diligence prior to selecting them as partners. The most common issue that I and probably other brokers would raise is that of the 'broker rate' as opposed to the 'general public' rate. We deal regularly with operators who do give us a verifiable broker discount in the knowledge that there is repeat business in the offing further down the road."

There is a degree of stress, a degree of uncertainty and definitely a large degree of enjoyment on the back of client satisfaction.

Dino Rasero of Italy's Top Jet warns: "To be able to work well and in a productive way in the executive charter world, you must be very patient. It is part of the job." He adds: "Our method is to choose five reliable operators with different aircraft and locations and work hard on high volumes and excellent services."

Air Charter Dubai charter sales manager Claire Brugirard says: "The stress depends on how busy the market place is. When there are natural disasters, war, or other such things going on, we can work days and nights in a row. Under normal circumstances, the life of a broker is also quite hectic, and you need to be prepared to be active at any time of day just as in any other sales job. The difference is that aviation is 24-7 and the business never stops."

She sums up what makes the constant hard work seem worthwhile. "The small things that make this job interesting are often related to what kind of people we deal with and the jobs we get done. We get to meet a lot of interesting people – vips and high net worth individuals etc. But we also get to be involved in projects which are very rewarding from the job satisfaction point of view, such as successfully carrying out evacuations or helping save lives during medical emergencies."