DUBAI: Long ignored by the business class travelers as an ultimate luxury, private jet bookings reached new heights during the pandemic when commercial travel became restricted. Those with critical travel needs had no option but to look to private aviation to fill the void.
“This led to a sudden and massive influx of business travelers flying private for the first time,” said Thomas Flohr, founder and chairman of Dubai-based Vista Global Holding, a private aviation portfolio of companies, including VistaJet, the first and only worldwide business aviation company.
Globally, 3.3 million private flights were operational in 2021, which is 7 percent higher than pre-COVID figures, according to WingX, a business aviation intelligence firm based in Germany.
The pandemic allowed private aviation companies like VistaJet to show new clients that flying private can be a financially viable travel solution in the long run.
“Overall, private aviation was well-insulated over the past couple of years,” said Flohr. “Ultimately, the pandemic showed that it does not necessarily work out more expensive. As a result, we have seen a significant surge in new corporate memberships due to organizations recognizing the many benefits we offer in terms of safety, security and accessibility.”
By mid-2021, up to 71 percent of VistaJet’s new requests were from passengers who had not regularly used business aviation solutions in the past.
“This shows how people value the ease, security, and accessibility of private aviation,” he said. “While the pandemic certainly provided the catalyst for change and redefined the global aviation landscape, the industry could respond quickly and efficiently to the change which has helped create a permanent shift in perception towards private travel.”
Changing dynamics of private aviation
Overall, the Gulf Cooperation Council and the Middle East have been among VistaJet’s biggest markets over the past two years. While the UAE has consistently been one of the company’s top destinations, Saudi Arabia has shown robust growth, particularly over the past six months, with “travel at the highest rate we have ever seen,” according to Flohr.
He credited the surge in travel to domestic demand within the GCC. Still, the company has also witnessed an increase in long-distance travel from the Kingdom and the Middle East overall, mainly to and from the US, followed by Europe.
In turn, these long-distance flights are driving demand for VistaJet’s longest-range aircraft, with requests for its expanding fleet of Bombardier’s Global 7500 among the highest globally.
Overall, private aviation was well-insulated over the past couple of years. Ultimately, the pandemic showed that it does not necessarily work out more expensive.
Thomas Flohr, Chairman of Vista Global Holding
“Travel into Saudi Arabia has also been on the rise, especially during April when VistaJet saw many flights entering Jeddah for Umrah,” said Flohr.
The changes in private travel habits do not stop here. VistaJet Members request longer trips to reach destinations further afield across the globe. In addition, many of them choose to embark on big adventures and far-flung expeditions — on a quest for new, thrilling and memorable moments.
Recent non-stop journeys include St Maarten to Seychelles (14 hours, 45 minutes), Honolulu to Helsinki (13 hours, 30 minutes) and Liège to Jakarta (13 hours, 30 minutes) thanks to VistaJet’s fleet of 10 brand new Global 7500 jets with a range of 7,700 nautical miles.
It is the largest, fastest and longest-range aircraft in business aviation, opening up a new world of long-haul private flying.
“We are also thrilled to see a growing emphasis on sustainability in the decision-making process, with 85 percent of VistaJet members having opted to compensate for their fuel use-related emissions by investing in certified carbon credits worldwide,” he added.
While Vista is headquartered in the UAE, the chairman’s vision is to create a global private aviation ecosystem.
The recent acquisition of Jet Edge, the fastest-growing North American charter operator, and Air Hamburg, Europe’s leading charter operator, earlier in the year served this ambition.
With these acquisitions, VistaJet is actively scaling its fleet at a time of unprecedented demand and bringing two long-established reputable companies under its umbrella.
It is the latest step in Vista’s transformation of the highly fragmented business aviation ecosystem. It builds on the successful integrations of Apollo Jets, Talon Air and Red Wing Aviation into the brand.
“Following the completion of both transactions, it will bring Vista’s combined global group fleet to over 350 aircraft, including owned and managed, and we expect an increase of around 30 percent flight hours globally,” said Flohr. “In addition, we are also pleased to welcome over 1,000 highly skilled new colleagues to Vista’s family of experts.”
VistaJet currently flies to 96 percent of the globe — essentially anywhere in the world where you can land an aircraft, so they are already present in every market.
“However, when it comes to opportunities for growth, there is still huge potential here in the Middle East,” he said. “I founded VistaJet in 2004 to make flying private simple. We introduced an entirely new way to fly, with access to an entire worldwide branded fleet, paying only for hours flown, with guaranteed availability and no asset risk.”
The opportunity is there to see, and the demand clearly outstrips supply. It will be interesting how long the trend lasts and how VistaJet steers its business in years to come.