The Switch to Private Flights: Why Fractional Aircraft Ownership Is Experiencing Such High Demand
The private jet industry is attracting new businesses and individuals at unprecedented levels, following a sluggish first half of 2020 when all travel suddenly came to a screeching halt, given the nature of the global pandemic. As is true in any industry, business teams need to be flexible and resilient and react quickly to market changes, client needs and new opportunities.
This is precisely what PlaneSense did as it pertained to understanding where their business had been, where it was in the midst of a tumultuous situation and how it could best push forward. George Antoniadis, president and CEO of fractional aircraft provider PlaneSense, and his team simply kept working as best they could, understanding the situation at hand and planning for ways to best serve their clients now and when the dust settled. As travel once again began to commence, people were seeking different opportunities to reach their destination more safely and efficiently.
Not only was private aviation offering exponentially safer flights than commercial aircraft during the COVID-19 pandemic—no security lines, no strangers as fellow flyers—but customers who’d tried private flying out of frustration began seeking longer-term solutions. In fact, 2020 ended so well that PlaneSense averaged around 85 percent of the business they’d done in 2019. The biggest challenge facing the entire aviation industry now? A lack of solid private air options.
“In the charter industry, they’ve hit a wall,” says Antoniadis of the flight on-demand model. “They have capacity limitations, and many programs are now fully prescribed.” Jet cards—in which customers buy a set number of flight hours—and other models are in similar situations or staggering along. Doug Gollan, the founder of the independent buyer’s guide Private Jet Card Comparisons, notes that 20 percent of private air’s customers have experienced a service problem in the near term.
The rules for many charter and card operators are also changing: What used to be 10- to 24-hour advance notice policies have morphed in some cases into 72- to 96-hour ones; peak dates—during which longer advance notice for booking and canceling is often in effect—sometimes incur steep surcharges. Some companies are even introducing blackout dates.
And thus, fractional aircraft ownership’s moment has arrived. They are seeing a very encouraging spike in demand for aircraft shares as more individuals and families are opting to seek the benefits of private aviation as their vehicle of choice for safe, reliable travel.
With staggering growth comes some inevitable pains that need to be navigated.
“We’re getting hit pretty hard,” Antoniadis admits, noting that he’s been in business for a quarter-century and never seen the demand level exhibited this year. With nearly 20 percent of its fleet set aside as “core” inventory for overflow demand, it’s maintained a solid guarantee policy for its owners in the fractional program. With the addition of nine new aircraft throughout 2022 to their current fleet of 50, PlaneSense has been proactively ahead of the curve to mitigate the pain of supply chain woes and ensure that their customers are sufficiently taken care of.
PlaneSense has long positioned its fractional program as the ideal private flight option for clients to fly on their schedule, at their own convenience, while leaving behind the headache of commercial flight logistics and the inconsistent, unreliable charter. There are no blackout dates to contend with, so PlaneSense gets people to their intended destination without limitation and an unlimited ability to fly when needed.
To that point, Gollan spoke to a client whose aviation company’s high demand days had become “nearly every Friday to Sunday, plus holidays—and they reserved the right to say, ‘We have to fly you a day later or a day earlier.’ He’s like, ‘Doug, how does this make sense? I want to go to Aspen for the weekend.’”
With this in mind, PlaneSense is well-positioned to be an industry leader. Boasting a unique fleet of Swiss-made Pilatus PC-12 turboprop planes and PC-24 jets (six- and eight-seaters, respectively), they’re able to land on much shorter runways than other private aircraft can—as little as 2,000 feet and on those made of grass or soil. As a result, instead of being beholden to commercial air’s 500 or so airports in the United States, they have 5,000 options—and can cater to needs even down to one client who has his own backyard airstrip.
With the recent rental car crunch easing but not over—and what looks likely to be a burst of more holiday travel than usual this year—getting closer to one’s destination by plane can be invaluable.
With commercial air’s spate of cancellations, limited capabilities, crowded cabins, retiring pilots, et al., private jet travel is looking to become more commonplace as time continues on. And with that, fractional ownership is the key to longevity and makes more sense in the post-COVID economy. Fractional’s steadiness and reliability has new appeal—and its cost appears less prohibitive because commercial air costs are cut out of the equation by many fliers. It’s also much more affordable than owning aircraft outright, as fractional share owners purchase only the hours they need and share in the responsibility and costs of aircraft operations compared to whole aircraft ownership. Share owners are also interested in the tax and depreciation benefits of fractional jet ownership and the notion that there are no surprises or hidden costs associated with an engagement with a company like PlaneSense and its fractional program.
Antoniadis looks forward to more of the long-term relationships he’s had with customers for decades. People who flew PlaneSense as children have, in time, been flown to their weddings via the aircrafts because families re-up so many times. “Our clients and our crews get to know each other—and we do things like keep preferences of the owners on file, noting what they like to have on board. It’s a very white glove private flying experience.”