Ian Moore, VistaJet's chief commercial officer and a 20-year veteran of the private jet business, says he cannot take aircraft deliveries fast enough to meet booming demand for luxury travel from wealthy customers.
European private jet operator VistaJet recorded its best third quarter as corporate travellers start returning to the skies for face-to-face meetings with suppliers and customers, after the Covid-19 pandemic subdued business trips, Mr Moore told The National.
The aviation company is taking delivery of nine Bombardier Global 7500s this year and next, bringing the number of this long-range business jet in the fleet to 13 by the end of 2022.
It will also take delivery of 10 Bombardier Challenger 350s, bringing its total fleet to 96 aircraft by the end of next year, from a little more than 70 currently.
“I would love to have all those aircraft right now. I have been in private aviation for 20 years and I have never seen such a disparity between supply and demand,” Mr Moore said in an interview onboard a Global 7500.
“On the back of March to May of last year, that is an incredible position to be in, in 18 months.”
Honeywell International raised its outlook for business jet deliveries as the aviation sector shakes off the effects of the pandemic and travel picks up with easing restrictions.
It forecasts 7,400 new business jet deliveries worth $238 billion from 2022 to 2031, a 1 per cent increase in deliveries from the same 10-year forecast a year ago.
An influx of first-time customers is expected to linger even when the pandemic subsides after experiencing the conveniences of private travel, Mr Moore said.
“Once you have had that private jet experience, it is very difficult to go back to commercial [flights]," he said. “The commercial routes have somewhat come back but they are still a long way to what they were pre-Covid and whether they will return, and whether it makes sense for commercial operators.”
While corporate travel on commercial flights has been slow to recover from the pandemic, VistaJet is recording a rise in the number of business trips in the last three to four months amid easing travel restrictions as top executives seek to reconnect with their global staff and address supply chain bottlenecks triggered by the crisis.
“The kind of category flying in the business jet are generally the chairman and chief executive and they have not been able to, until the last six months, to see their supply chain, their customers, their offices around the world, which is something they can do now from a private aviation perspective,” Mr Moore said.
“The supply chain crunch is not just about people seeing each other but obviously there are a lot of conversations that need to be had.”
As a result of robust demand, VistaJet operated 9,000 flights worldwide between July and September – a record for a third quarter.
“It has been our best third quarter that we have ever had; that is the volume of business we have had,” Mr Moore said, noting this was driven by leisure trips in July and August as well as signs of recovery in business travel.
He continues to be bullish about future growth for the rest of the year.
“The trend is continuing, we are seeing a lot of positive momentum,” Mr Moore said, pointing to an increase in the number of hours flown and number of new membership subscriptions to its global programme.
In the first half of the year, VistaJet recorded a 50 per cent yearly increase in new members and a 67 per cent yearly increase in the number of flying hours purchases by its members.
During the first six months of the year, the UAE was its most popular destination as the country opened for business after softening the blow of the pandemic with one of the world's fastest vaccination campaigns.
The private jet industry has recently come under the spotlight from climate critics after the world's leaders flew in on charter jets to the Cop26 gathering on climate change, resulting in backlash on the carbon emissions around the event.
VistaJet says it is taking several measures to become carbon-neutral by 2025 and believes its business model of offering a flight hour subscription plan, which guarantees availability at a fixed hourly rate, is more sustainable than traditional models of full aircraft ownership.
“There is no one here belittling the challenges ahead,” Mr Moore said. “The optics of private jets have changed dramatically in the last 10 years. It is not about champagne and caviar any more; it is actually about really connecting cultures, creating business opportunities.
“There are a lot of billion-dollar business deals that are done at the back of a private jet. Particularly with commercial aviation being decimated, private jets were there to pick that [traffic] up.”
He said private jets were involved in humanitarian efforts to move health equipment, parts and travellers during the pandemic, while the industry itself creates millions of jobs and generates billions of dollars in commercial deals that benefit the global economy.
“Picking on private aviation industry, we take that criticism, we understand the optics of that. We are not here to debate it. Our job is to ensure that on the positive side, we are doing the best we can,” he said.
“The industry has a place in the ecosystem. It creates commerce, cultural nuance and understanding, and employs a lot of people.”
Mr Moore emphasised the need for a more constructive approach to climate mitigation than finger-pointing.
“Let us not pick on private aviation, every industry needs to do a lot more than what they can do ... it is important not to focus on what tomorrow will bring. We need to do things today,” he said.
As part of its sustainability efforts, VistaJet offered its members the option to participate in a carbon offset programme in January 2020 and recorded an 80 per cent uptake from them in the first three months, according to the executive.
It also partnered with SkyNRG to provide global access to sustainable aviation fuels to the business aviation industry, invested in more fuel-efficient aircraft such as the Global 7500, optimised routes to reduce fuel burn and invested in artificial intelligence technology to improve its fleet management.
“We understand the severity of the situation and the entire industry is well aware of our place in it," said Mr Moore. “We can chastise, we can be cynical ... but we also need to look at incentives.”