Hamburg-based WINGX recently reported that private aviation in Europe is up 30 per cent compared to 2019.
‘You could say that COVID-19 was a growth spurt for us,’ says Marine Eugene, who, after 15 years at Netjets, became Managing Director of Flexjet Europe and the Middle East in January 2019. The company didn’t know that at the time though. ‘When the lockdown happened, we had 90 days of extreme anxiety and then the demand was extraordinary.’
And it’s stayed this way, not just because of 2022’s record levels of cancellations in the commercial flight sector. This is also an era where having your own jet isn’t necessarily the best optics for a company. And there are people who don’t travel enough to warrant their own private aircraft but have the capital for shared ownership. It also fits well into current trends of privacy and optimizing convenience. If COVID-19 helped establish the shared ownership model of private jet travel, Eugene and her competitors are planning to ensure it stays that way.
Currently, around 50 per cent of Flexjet’s passengers come from in and around London, although, she points out wryly that they aren’t necessarily British because while based in London throughout her career, Eugene is French. At the moment, the majority of Flexjet’s flights are within Europe as well, with a particular strength in flying between destinations that don’t have easy connections, such as remote parts of Scandinavia to Italy or Greek islands.
Flexjet’s fleet now includes two Gulfstream 650s planes, capable of 14 hours flight time, a speed of up to Mach 0.925, continuous air circulation, high speed wifi, and with space for up to 15 people. The G650s, points out Eugene, also has excellent short field landing which means it can use airports such as London City.
Flexjet is seeking to both streamline the private jet experience and enhance it. On a practical level, this has included buying the U.K. Halo Aviation helicopter company in 2021 so one booking can take passengers on a six-minute journey from the Battersea heliport to Flexjet’s Farnborough base before flying onwards. There’s also a 300 per cent carbon offset for each flight taken.
There are also experiential touches that aim to differentiate Flexjet from its competitors, including partnerships with hotels. Recently, the Fife Arms in Braemar arranged a special shooting party for the company’s owners. Flexjet’s headquarters in Mayfair also has a clubhouse for owners to use as an office base.
Above all, and this is where private jet travel can be seen to put serious distance between it and commercial airlines, Flexjet wants to bring back the notion of air travel as style-driven and fun. The Gulfstream 650s have been fitted out by Bentley Motors (Flexjet chairman Kenn Ricci is a fan of the British car firm) with a white and black color theme, down to the leather seats with basket weave stitching.
Ricci, who is of Italian ancestry, also managed to persuade Francesco Vanerio to leave his job at the Villa d’Este hotel to become VP of Customer Experience. Vanerio trains the crew who are all assigned to specific aircraft. It’s not hard to see that Flexjet – of all the shared ownership private jet companies – is targeting a customer base who wants the frills and sheer panache of private jet ownership but without the faff.