Wings On Demand
Business Traveler|December 2016/January 2017

New planes, wider markets, more flexibility – private skies promise better ways to fly

Jerome Greer Chandler

Old definitions are dying by the dozens each day, and we scramble to rewrite digital dictionaries to keep up. So it is with the business jet – that one-time corporate bauble signifying success or excess that’s become (some argue) an essential tool of business travelers on momentous missions.

Over the last quarter-century Gary Gennari has witnessed the metamorphosis up-close and personally. When Priester Aviation’s senior vice president of charter first started, he says “it was mostly a relationship business. We were dealing with the likes of the Rockefellers and the Whitneys. That was the caliber of people that chartered aircraft.” Now, Gennari says, “the market has developed so much.”

Then what had been a toy became a tool, as corporations sought to make the most of high-value business travelers’ time. Business jets didn’t exactly become mass transportation, but corporations bought them, leased them and chartered them as never before. Their prime selling point was, and remains, enhanced productivity for senior executives on an increasingly planet wide stage.

Next, in the mid-1980s, “the whole market shifted,” with the advent of fractional ownership, Gennari explains. Propelled by fractional ownership juggernaut NetJets, the concept took off, especially among companies disenchanted with the traditional charter concept. With the fractional model, “one of their big selling points was that you pay only point-to-point pricing – ‘live hours’ (the time during which passengers were on board). “In charter you also pay ferry time: If people flew one way down to Florida and wanted to come back one week later, they’d fly back empty.”

In the aviation business, whether corporate or commercial, there is little operators loathe quite as much as an unproductive flying machine, one that’s not making any money. You don’t make money by flying empty – unless you levy a ‘ferry’ fee.

As a result, “companies started popping up that would go out and buy a fleet of aircraft that was put out just for charter,” says Gennari. “There were ‘virtual’ crew bases. So if you wanted to fly just one way from New York to Florida they’d fly you one way and just leave the airplane down there and see what business they could pick up. They’d just keep moving the airplane around the system.”

New Kid on the Block

The latest bizjet business model entails selling memberships on private jets. Those memberships translate to seats on certain routes, blurring the lines between business jets and airlines. One of the prime practitioners is a company called JetSmarter, which bills itself as “the world’s largest mobile marketplace for private jets.” The company’s fact sheet asserts it has “fundamentally rewired the marketplace, and reinvented an industry for the on-demand economy.”

JetSmarter offers three categories of service:

JetShuttle – This lets members (there’s a $5,000 minimum per person annual membership fee) search and book a seat on an already scheduled bizjet route such as New York-San Francisco, Geneva-London or Dubai-Riyadh. That fee gets you a first seat “free.” You pay extra for additional seats.

JetDeals – Offers one-way flights on private jets. In contrast to JetShuttle, these flights are sporadic. Members can get anywhere from one to four “free” seats on JetDeals by virtue of that membership.

JetCharter – You can book the entire airplane. Or share the ride with others from other companies.

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