Kevin MacNaughton, managing director charter for Air Partner, speaks with Globetrender about surging demand for private jets among holidaymakers, the most popular destinations to fly to and why Brexit is boosting bookings out of the UK.
What is Air Partner?
Founded in 1961, Air Partner is a global aviation services group providing aircraft charter and aviation safety and security solutions to industry, commerce, governments and private individuals across civil and military organisations. As the first publicly traded air charter company, our historical and existing financial strength means our clients are in trusted and reliable hands.
Air Partner has two divisions: Air Partner Charter, comprising group charter, private jets, freight and specialist services; and Air Partner Safety & Security, which comprises aviation safety and security training, research and consulting services from Baines Simmons and Redline Assured Security.
What services does Air Partner offer when it comes to group charter and private jets?
Our charter division offers a suite of bespoke services and programmes to guide and enhance our clients’ everyday travel needs into something extraordinary. The flexibility of charter flights allows us to work closely with clients to tailor the service to their exact requirements of private jet travel, such as unparalleled comfort, luxury food and drink, and exceptional service. This includes our customisable On Demand and On Demand+ programmes, as well as our range of JetCard memberships from five, ten or 25 hours.
Which are Air Partner’s key markets?
We have a presence in 17 locations, spanning Europe, North America, the Middle East, Africa and Asia. Last year, Air Partner expanded its Singapore office and established its first physical presence within Africa.
In what ways is it an innovative company?
We are a highly adaptable company and our diverse portfolio of services is always evolving to be ahead of the market and to anticipate client demands. We offer flexible cancellation options across all services, so clients can book with peace of mind. Our innovative JetCard membership offers members the ultimate flexibility and freedom. Members can take advantage of guaranteed availability with 24 hours’ notice, as well as a fixed hourly rate with no hidden costs, among many other benefits.
In response to the pandemic, we also launched the new JetCard 5, providing clients with five hours of flight time. JetCard 5 is the ideal safety net for those who want to future-proof their travel plans, or for those who are new to private flying. To provide reassurance to a more safety- conscious client base, we launched the Air Partner Protect in early 2020 to provide comprehensive safeguarding of flights to mitigate risk. This minimising of contact and touchpoints is a service that cannot be implemented on a commercial flight.
We are also passionate about managing our business in a sustainable way and, while we recognise there are challenges in the aviation industry, we encourage clients to carbon offset via a partnership with ClimateCare. This is the first step in our mission to operate more sustainably with our partners and supply chain in the future.
Tell us about your fleet. How many aircraft do you have access to?
We have an approved list of more than 7,000 aircraft that we charter on behalf of our clients, ensuring that the best and most appropriate aircraft is used for any particular journey our clients are embarking on. This allows us access to competitive live market pricing for greater, more bespoke aircraft choices.
What effect has the pandemic had on the private jet charter market?
For Air Partner, the crisis proved to be an opportunity to demonstrate our wide range of services and our ability to put the needs of customers first. Globally, the number of new clients and JetCard memberships has grown, with particularly strong demand from high-net-worth individuals embarking on leisure travel.
Air Partner experienced a 321% increase in people interested in private flying during the summer of 2020, as many Covid-19 related travel restrictions lifted. The US private jet business performed well as private jet customers increased 23% year-on- year in early 2021.
The JetCard programme saw a 15% rise in sales and renewals year-on-year in the UK, thanks to pent-up demand from consumers to travel abroad again this summer. This allows clients to buy private flying hours in advance with the ability to cancel at just 24 hours’ notice.
What are your predictions for private jet usage in 2021 and 2022?
We predict corporate travel to return eventually, but recovery will be slower than leisure. We expect to see a surge in leisure travel demand, similar to what we saw last year, once restrictions lift and people regain their appetite for travel.
As demonstrated in the summer of 2020, we predict several first-time private jet users to the market, as travellers look to avoid large queues caused by testing requirements and passenger locator forms at airport terminals. We expect to accommodate more multi-generation families who are able to spend unrestricted time together as they recognise the additional safety of travelling in their family bubble.
What unique services and experiences can you arrange for people booking private jets?
With 60 years of experience, we are the experts in bespoke aviation and luxury travel, allowing us to tailor each journey perfectly to our clients’ needs. With a strong geographic presence across four continents and a 24- hour, year-round flight operations centre, Air Partner’s team of 400 aviation professionals are always available to organise any changes, from departure to arrival.
Anything from arranging personal ground transportation and PCR testing to customising the onboard dining experience, Air Partner can arrange a truly seamless experience. Air Partner also offers JetCard flyers who buy a minimum of 25 travel hours’ access to its JetCard Lifestyle Membership, which means year- round access to the most premium concierge services.
What are the most popular routes for 2021?
Last summer, when restrictions were lifted, the popular destinations were Mykonos, Nice, Ibiza and Olbia [in Sardinia]. We predict these will be popular destinations again this year. We are also seeing a lot of demand for travel to the US to visit family or for business purposes.
Why is flying private preferable to flying commercial?
The pandemic has reshaped perceptions towards safety when it comes to flying and travel. Private travel is being seen as more of a necessity than a luxury due to its quality safety provisions and greater control over the customer environment. It is a safer alternative, avoiding cramped commercial flights where the risk of exposure to Covid is higher.
What do you offer in terms of Covid-secure protocols?
Through our industry- leading Safety & Security division, Air Partner has long been committed to adhering to rigorous health and safety protocols. Our Air Partner Protect service provides comprehensive safeguarding of flights to mitigate risk. We ensure a deep cleaning of aircraft and the provision of crew who take strict hygiene precautions. Clients can opt out of having cabin crew service at all, providing an extra level of reassurance. We also work with Northcott Global Solutions to provide clients with a quick and professional response to medical emergencies.
What trends do you predict for the future of private jet travel in 2021 and beyond?
For the UK, the impact of Brexit will make private jets even more popular for British travellers, as they will no longer be able to use the EU passport customs lanes. This will make moving through airports more time-consuming. Furthermore, there will need to be more planning ahead of time for those travelling with pets in
or out of the UK. The wealthy will be making up for lost time with their most lavish “once-in-a- lifetime” holidays yet.
Do think first-time private jet users will continue to fly private after the pandemic?
Private travel will continue to grow in popularity and demand in a post-Covid world, especially with first-
time flyers. During the pandemic, we saw, and continue to see, an increase in clients who previously travelled in
first or business class on commercial airlines. Whether it is for leisure or business, we expect this increase in enquiries and bookings to continue after Covid-19 is behind us.
What are your plans for growth in the years ahead?
We are exploring ways for Air Partner’s Safety & Security business to enter the US market, as well as adding strategic partners in Southeast Asia. We will also expand our sustainability strategy to reduce the carbon footprint of our customers and us as a business.