Aircraft chartering is nothing new. It has traditionally been an efficient and cost-effective model for ad-hoc flying needs, supporting tailored trips for a variety of groups including corporate incentives, business road shows, product launches, and transport for sports teams and band tours. Throughout the Covid-19 pandemic charter has played a big part in helping corporates fly safely.
We will only see aircraft charter grow in importance. Leisure travel will come back first, because it is discretionary. And while business travel will recover, it will take longer. In addition, it’s likely, in this new era of ‘agile’ working, there will likely be a trend toward more ‘hybrid’ events, as many executives will be nervous of attending large-scale gatherings.
Yet while the pandemic has accelerated the widespread adoption of video conferencing technology, it has also emphasised the value of face-to-face meetings – deeper understanding of shared values, increased productivity and the ability to build long-term, trusted partnerships.
Travel budgets and spend will undoubtedly be more carefully considered going forward, especially with corporations increasingly scrutinising the environmental impact of their travel policies. However, there can be no denying the pent-up demand for travel and the importance of face-to-face networking.
According to Avolon Leasing, 60 start-up airlines around the world are in various stages of development. We are in the midst of a perfect storm to do things differently and start afresh. We are already seeing collaborations, codeshares and partnerships among many established airlines that would have been unlikely pre-pandemic.
Airport slot availability is widespread, even at the big hubs, and airlines are working hard to get parked aircraft back in the air and their pilots back in the cockpit.
Several airlines have declared bankruptcy and around a third of the world’s air routes have been lost owing to the pandemic, underlining our belief that charter will become busier, especially in terms of traffic from the finance sector and corporates.
Dedicated aircraft charter also creates new opportunities. Even before the pandemic, corporate clients were utilising charter for complex flight programmes or routes to remote destinations, be it Angola and Nigeria, or oil company shuttles in Kazakhstan and Algeria.
Personalisation has always been an important part of chartering aircraft. Knowing clients’ preferences and requirements enables us to source the most appropriate aircraft and the optimum way of transporting employees.
If an airline has cut a flight during the pandemic, questions will abound on how that airline can anticipate whether there will be enough demand to reinstate a route in 12 months, or whether they can scale-up capacity efficiently and quickly enough to meet a sudden swell in demand. The bespoke nature of air charter provides businesses with a reliable, long-term solution to this reduction in scheduled connectivity when moving personnel.
One trend we believe will fly for travel arrangers is the ‘corporate shuttle.’ Here’s why:
Covid compliant and sanitised
Keeping employees safe will be a priority for employers when looking at travel options for their staff. Employees will be comfortable knowing they’re travelling only with fellow co-workers on an aircraft flying just for them. For the business it demonstrates corporate responsibility too. A company that looks after its employees when they need to travel will furthermore enhance their appeal to engaging with future talent.
Regional airports, alongside dedicated business airports and FBOs, are increasingly adapting their private lounges to support a constantly changing market. Private terminals such as Inflite The Jet Centre at Stansted, Farnborough and London Oxford Airports, which regularly fly Formula 1 teams and football league charters, are able to facilitate 80-seat regional jets and Airbus A320-sized aircraft. Employees can check-in in a safe and secure environment while a corporate shuttle minimises the number of people business travellers come into contact with. On board they enjoy social distanced seating too. In addition, regional and business airports enable employees to fly from closer to home and with minimal fuss on arrival at the airport.
Charter allows the business to determine the itinerary it wants, not be reliant on an airline’s schedule. Post-coronavirus, an airline a business relied on previously may have dropped a route, or cut the frequency. Air fares too will be subject to dynamic pricing on uncontested routes. Dedicated charter provides point-to-point connectivity, with access to airports not served via scheduled routes, reducing the need for additional ground arrangements.
A regular corporate shuttle also removes the need for overnight stays and the uncertainty of a flight being cancelled or delayed at the last minute.
Work on board
Many charter aircraft, whether they seat eight or 180 passengers, offer wi-fi connectivity and in-seat power, enabling business travellers to work as efficiently while onboard as they do on the ground. The exclusive cabin environment enables executives to hold meetings inflight in complete privacy.
We have all experienced a stressful year, with the pandemic throwing up a raft of uncertainty and anxiety. A long motorway commute to work is tiring and not conducive to good health, or quality family life.
Booking artists and bands
Special groups such as orchestras are able to transport instruments in the cabin with them when they fly. The ad hoc charters we handle are typically commissioned to solve a logistical problem in artists’ schedules. This is because the timings don’t work between shows and/or the options using commercial aircraft are difficult. Private charter makes sense, enabling more tour dates to be accomplished, enhancing the value. Music tours on private aircraft allow the artists to maximise their touring. Bands will also need to carry a lot of equipment in the hold.
Corporate shuttle can evolve to regular services
In the early 1980s the original regional airlines started out this way, building up a route (or pathfinding) to the point that other business travellers want to buy a ticket to fly on the route. As well as dedicated ACMI providers, Europe’s regional airlines also offer their aircraft out for charter when not flying on scheduled services.