Despite challenging economic and market conditions, 2018 was a record year for UK-headquartered private jet booking service PrivateFly. The company generated significant continued growth, celebrated ten years in business and in September announced its acquisition by Ohio, USA-based aviation consultancy Directional Aviation. Reflecting on the past year, PrivateFly has now released its Private Jet Charter Trends 2018 report detailing its own top destinations, aircraft and a range of customer demographics.
Findings for 2018 include London as the company's busiest destination; more demand for the Hawker 800 midsize jet; and 26 May being the busiest take-off day thanks to a combination of the Cannes Film Festival, Champions League Final and public holiday weekends in both the UK and the US. Now CEO Adam Twidell offers his insight into some of the key industry developments and challenges to look out for over the next 12 months.
He predicts that 2019 will be a make or break year for shared charter programmes: “For the past few years there has been lots of noise and investment around seat sharing in private jets. However, no-one has yet been able to prove the viability of the business model. Investors will not be able to keep pouring money in if these companies continue to make losses.”
The spotlight will also fall on environmental innovation. “Consumers and businesses are prioritising green initiatives more than ever before, with the private aviation industry following this trend,” he adds. Larger charter operators will start to be monitored this year under the carbon offsetting programme that also applies to commercial airlines, but he feels that electric aircraft are the ultimate goal here. He expects more investment in the leading concepts with a focus, and challenge, on regulation and infrastructure: “These aircraft can already fly; now they need to prove they can keep paying customers safe.”
He expects the trend for consolidation within the industry to continue to increase, citing the example of PrivateFly's own acquisition by Directional Aviation, as well as for there to be more mergers and acquisitions within the on-demand charter segment. “It's still very fragmented, and both the customer and the industry would benefit from this being less so.”
As for the impact of regulation Twidell envisages a number of global challenges. In Europe he acknowledges that Brexit will have a major impact, although exactly how is still unclear: “Operators need to be able to optimise their flight plans within Europe to make sense commercially,” he says. Limitations on inter-European flights will mean more complexity, less choice and, ultimately, customers paying more. And in the US: “The clock is ticking loudly for the incoming ADS-B requirement set by the FAA, which means older aircraft require an expensive upgrade to their tracking systems to comply from January 2020. Europe follows suit in June 2020. This will impact the pre-owned market and potentially increase charter costs on aircraft over 10 years old.”
He goes on to forecast more extreme weather-related demand as these events seemingly get more frequent: “Over the past few years we've seen major spikes in on-demand charter activity at such times. From forest fires to flooding, to hurricanes and heavy snowfall, private aviation can fly in quickly, when and where required.”
But the coming year could be a tipping point for digital communication, and he notes that while the industry is highly customer-oriented, a surprising number of companies are still stuck in old communication ways. But he expects this to change when it comes to clients expecting instant, two-way communication, on their own terms. “Offering a truly multi-channel service that includes social media, chat platforms, instant messaging and 24-hour phone support will become a key sales differentiator.”
New jets will stir up the super midsize market as Embraer's Praetor 600 comes into service alongside Textron's Citation Longitude. He says that both represent their manufacturers' first forays into this key market segment for transatlantic and cross-continental flights, and both will be vying to dethrone the Bombardier Challenger 350.
Finally, he expects more ultra long range, non-stop demand as per the trend seen in the airline segment: “At the top of the market we should see more long range clients looking to fly further and choosing higher-priced, non-stop flights over fuel stops, for faster overall journey time and uninterrupted sleep. All eyes are on the Global 7500 as it enters service, out flying the current 'fastest and furthest' G650ER.”