Hamburg-based WINGX recently reported that private aviation in Europe grew by 30% compared to 2019.
“You could say COVID-19 has been a growth spurt for us,” says Marine Eugene, who after 15 years at Netjets became general manager of Flexjet Europe and Middle East in January 2019. The company does not didn’t know it at the time though. “When the lockdown happened we had 90 days of extreme anxiety and then the demand was extraordinary.”
And it has stayed that way, not just because of 2022’s record levels of cancellations in the commercial flight sector. It’s also a time when having your own jet isn’t necessarily the best optics for a business. And there are people who don’t travel enough to justify their own private jet but have the capital for shared ownership. It also fits in well with current privacy and convenience optimization trends. If COVID-19 helped establish the shared ownership model of private jet travel, Eugene and his competitors plan to make sure it stays that way.
Currently around 50% of Flexjet’s passengers come from London and surrounding areas, although she wryly points out that they are not necessarily British because, despite being based in London throughout his career, Eugene is French . At present, the majority of Flexjet’s flights are also within Europe, with particular strength in flights between destinations that do not have easy connections, such as remote parts of Scandinavia to Italy or the Greek islands.
Flexjet’s fleet now includes two Gulfstream 650 aircraft, capable of 14 hours flight time, speeds up to Mach 0.925, continuous airflow, high-speed wifi and space for up to accommodate up to 15 people. The G650, Eugene points out, also has excellent short-field landing, meaning it can use airports such as London City.
Flexjet seeks to both streamline and improve the private jet experience. On a practical level, this has included the purchase of British helicopter company Halo Aviation in 2021 so that a booking can take passengers on a six-minute journey from Battersea heliport to Flexjet’s Farnborough base. before continuing their flight. There is also a 300% carbon offset for each flight performed.
There are also experiential touches that aim to differentiate Flexjet from its competitors, including partnerships with hotels. Recently the Fife Arms of Braemar held a special shooting night for the owners of the business. Flexjet’s head office in Mayfair also has a clubhouse that owners can use as an office base.
First and foremost, and this is where private jet travel can be seen as putting some serious distance between itself and commercial airlines, Flexjet wants to bring back the notion of air travel as stylish and fun. The Gulfstream 650s were outfitted by Bentley Motors (Flexjet chairman Kenn Ricci is a fan of the British car firm) with a white and black color theme, right down to the leather seats with basket weave stitching.
Italian-born Ricci also managed to persuade Francesco Vanerio to quit his job at the Villa d’Este hotel to become vice president of guest experience. Vanerio trains crews who are all assigned to specific aircraft. It’s not hard to see that Flexjet – of all private jet ownership companies – targets a clientele that wants the frills and pure panache of private jet ownership, but without the faff.