Article

Putting the community first – one operator’s story

30 Apr 2020

Tell us how you came to get involved in providing critical travel during the crisis

Things began to change for us in February. We started to see a huge wave of requests to move people away from where the virus was breaking. During February and March, we were moving customers from Asia to the US and Europe – a lot of one-way flights. 

Then, as the situation unfolded in Italy and across Europe the requests were to fly the other way. We were flying people to China, but no one was coming back. That was when the team suggested offering not only our empty legs but also access to our global infrastructure, to those who needed it. We called this our Supporting Communities initiative and we were able to put it in place quickly. 

Several governments and medical organisations were reaching out to us, looking for help to get diplomats and doctors home. Through Vista Global we have 115 aircraft around the world, so we knew we could make a real difference. Plus, as a business we wanted to be able to look back at these times and be proud of our actions.

What made you uniquely placed to help?

We have a global infrastructure, so we can maneuver aircraft and go with the demand. We also chose larger cabin aircraft for our fleet which means we can move people from continent to continent in volume. 

And are you still seeing demand?

Yes, although it can be a challenge to find the empty legs that work for people because of where they are trying to get to and where we are flying. We send out 30-40 empty legs every day to our network and the conversation starts at that point. 

You’re a great example of a business adapting to the situation. Does that come naturally?

Yes, it really does. Being adaptable, going against the grain and thinking differently is in our DNA and that stems from our Founder and Chairman, Thomas Flohr. 

Thomas began in aviation as a private owner wanting to maximize his asset by putting it to the charter market when he wasn’t using it. He was less worried about where his aircraft was based, he just wanted to keep it moving. That was quite unique back in 2004 as most operators were obsessed with where their pilots lived, where the maintenance was being done etc.

As the fleet grew he continued to show there was an alternative to buying your own jet or buying a fraction of one. He proved that the operator could take the asset risk away from the customer while still providing them with what they wanted at the right pricepoint. The industry wasn’t ready for this approach. It broke the mould and most people thought it would fail, but Thomas has been proved right.

His vision all along was to create a truly global brand with an infrastructure that fitted around the lifestyle of customers. If they were in Beijing or Dubai, they could enjoy our service just like they would with a chain of hotels.

That idea really came about in early 2007/2008 with the purchase of Skyjet and our first entrance into Asia and the Middle East. We made that big step at the time of the financial crash, but we adapted then and we’re doing the same now in 2020.

That sense of adventure must run throughout the whole business

There are 1,500 employees across the Vista Global group of companies, and I’d say that ever single one of them has an entrepreneurial spirit. We take on any challenge because that’s how we’re set up. Our goal is to find a way to get to ‘yes’, and if it’s a ‘no’, then no one else in the world can do it. That’s one of the reasons I love working here.

I must give a special mention to all our employees and acknowledge the dedication and energy they’ve shown over the past few months. They’ve been fantastic and everyone is so proud of what we’ve achieved.

What changes have you had to make to provide this new service?

It’s been a case of getting our teams up to speed with how to deal with the nature of the new requests, the limitations of an empty leg and the practicalities of availability. That and understanding what we can and cannot carry. Some medical equipment, for example, you can’t transport without a license, and we’ve been able to obtain many of these quickly.

Luckily, we’re expert in making things work and finding a way. We were the first to enter Africa in a big way, the first to go into Asia and operate globally from there into the Middle East, Europe, the US and South America… we have a can-do approach.

What do you feel are the biggest challenges for the private charter industry in the short-term?

I think regional operators are in for a rough ride, because if their region is on lockdown, they simply can’t maneuver their fleet. Some of those operators will suffer for sure and at best a period of consolidation is inevitable.

We talk to on-demand operators around the world and everyone is wondering what the market will look like when people can travel again. I think commercial will struggle because many customers will be reluctant to go to a crowded airport or get on a packed plane. Private operators will have a huge role to play, I think. For people who travel a lot – if they can afford it – they’ll maybe do one trip with their family by private jet rather than the usual four trips by commercial. 

Private jets have always been first into recession and the last out. This time we were the last into lockdown and will be the first out. We’re best placed.

Hopefully we at Avinode have helped you during this crisis

Avinode is right now the heart of all demand and acquisition, certainly for us. We have a great relationship with your team, who continually help us find efficiencies in our systems. Without you we wouldn’t have seen such a large increase in quotes or been able to deal with them so effectively.

Avinoide has also been a big part of our success, helping us expand into new regions by connecting us with a vast network of brokers.

Alongside the Community Support initiative, sustainability is very important to you

It’s something we’re really committed to. We’re always looking for ways to operate more responsibly. Take fuel, for example. We’d like to see a lot more movement towards an environmentally friendly fuel and get that concept into the mindset of the industry. It’s about thinking differently. 

We’ve always bought the newest aircraft with the most efficient fuel programmes, such as the new Global 7500 which we have recently taken delivery of and which has a significant fuel burn advantage over its predecessors. We didn’t just buy them for how they look inside the cabin. 

Just like we saw in 2008, there’s now a pause in the climate debate, but it needs to be back on the table. We think there’s a real opportunity for us all to come out of this as a new industry from a sustainability and environmental perspective. 

We created our Sustainability in Aviation white paper to really push the agenda and get the conversation started. 

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