Private jet travel continues to surge

A Victor private jet in Monaco.
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Jeri Clausing
Jeri Clausing

Anyone who was wondering about the outlook for private jet travel need only look at the news from recent weeks.

First came the U.S. and U.K. electronics carry-on ban for certain airlines from select countries.  Then there was the story about a woman being subjected to an invasive search because she was wearing a panty liner. The grand finale came with the disturbing video of man being dragged by the police from an overbooked United flight.

They make my recent and ongoing frustrations with commercial air travel seem minor. But I know that if I had the money, I'd be flying private any chance I could get. And those who do apparently are.

Victor, which describes itself as the world's leading on-demand private jet charter marketplace, said it is seeing a substantial rise in demand for larger jets for significantly longer journeys "to adventurous and far-flung locations." And since the global markets crash in 2008, it said bookings of long-range aircraft, like the Gulfstream IV and Bombardier Global 6000, are up 98%.

Likewise, several private jet membership services that deal mostly with smaller aircraft pointed to the number of private planes in Augusta, Ga., last week for the Masters golf tournament, which some have dubbed the Super Bowl for private aviation.

Companies such as Flexjet and Wheels Up were projecting the largest private jet turnout ever for the event, and Wheels Up said
April 11 that it had logged a 45% hike this year in flights to the Masters.

The Wheels Up Hospitality House at the Masters golf tournament in Augusta, Ga.
The Wheels Up Hospitality House at the Masters golf tournament in Augusta, Ga. Photo Credit: Wheels Up

The trend followed the overall growth in the industry. Flexjet said in a press release that the industry has a high level of correlation with the financial markets. The company said it ended 2016 with a 20% surge in new business, "and with the markets rising sharply in the past four months, we have seen very robust flying activity to start 2017."

Private jet travel began gaining popularity with all the post-9/11 security lines and additional hassles. It has become so popular that luxury hotels and tour companies, even Crystal Cruises, have begun buying their own planes or inking partnerships to offer a wide range of packaged tours and itineraries that include all or part private air travel.

Clive Jackson, founder and CEO of Victor, which supplies everything from jumbo jets for rock bands to four-seat Mustangs that can whisk a family to Antigua, said he anticipates continued growth in the use of charters by both tour operators and individual agents.

The company, he said, can work with individuals, agents or travel management companies looking to develop their own itineraries. It also has a program under which it can offer travel planning services through partnerships with ground tour operators in some destinations.

Last year, he said, the company operated $40 million in jet charters, or about 2,500 flights. Fifteen percent of those customers, he said, were first-time private air travelers.

"From a consumer perspective, what we are seeing is that, like the mainstream leisure market where consumers have been less prone to buy packaged holidays, they are more akin to constructing them themselves," Jackson said.
"They want access, they want immediacy, they want to be in control," he said —  three things I think we all agree got lost long ago in commercial air travel.

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