Private flight boom forecast as air travel switches course

Demand spikes as passengers look to reduce their infection risk in the new pandemic era

Aziz Ghorbani, General Manager, Delta World Charter, on the rise in demand for charter flights during the COVID-19 pandemic, an industry insider tells us why on May 25th, 2021. 
Antonie Robertson / The National.
Reporter: Nicholas Webster for National.
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It has been a torrid year for commercial airlines but the private charter industry is on the edge of a business boom as more people turn towards exclusive travel.

Prices may have spiked up to 35 per cent on some routes, but that has done little to quell demand, according to the boss of Delta World Charter.

The private airline operates out of Dubai’s Al Maktoum International Airport, and offers a fleet of jets and helicopters for business or pleasure - all for a premium price.

National carriers and commercial airliners are not yet ready to perform at full capacity so the private jet market is bridging the gap

Aziz Ghorbani, general manager of Delta World Charter, said the firm is well prepared to welcome in a new era of growth.

“Since early 2021 we have seen an improvement in demand,” he said.

“With Saudi reopened a lot of interest is now coming from there, and when the European market opened up we also saw a lot of demand to the Middle East.

“National carriers and commercial airliners are not yet ready to perform at full capacity so the private jet market is bridging the gap.”

Evacuation and repatriation of passengers unable to fly on commercial airlines due to disrupted flight routes contributed to increased demand during the pandemic.

Meanwhile, sporting franchises and highly paid athletes took charter flights, to ensure bio-secure bubbles were not compromised.

During the 2020 edition of the Indian Premier League staged in the UAE, dozens of cricketers were flown in on chartered flights from various countries to compete.

Organisers acknowledged the shortened quarantine period and lower group travel costs had a direct impact on balance sheets.

At the Australian Open in February tennis players also flew privately on charter flights, with more than 1,000 athletes and support staff making the journey to Melbourne.

Experts believe this can be a future template for all major sporting events in the post-pandemic era.

The post-pandemic recovery

For the aviation industry, 2020 was a nightmare year.

But according to global air charter reports, private flights to and from GCC countries saw a 4.9 per cent increase in January year-on-year and a 7.9 per cent rise in February.

“Operations during the pandemic have got more technical but we have been fully prepared for cross checking PCR tests and all exit and entry requirements which have become more difficult,” said Mr Ghorbani.

“Pre-pandemic, London and Geneva were the most popular routes to the Middle East, mainly for business and corporate travel but we have not seen that in 2021.

“Routes like Mauritius and Seychelles were popular, as was the Maldives, but now Europe is opening we are expecting to see changes and expect Paris, Geneva and London to increase in popularity.

“Most of the flights we have to bring back empty, whereas before we could fly to London and then bring returning passengers home.

“As a result, these flights have increased (in price) by 30-35 per cent.”

The problems with pooling

Inside a private jet operated by Delta World Charter. Courtesy Delta World Charter

Pooling flights between passengers with the same destination in mind has reduced the cost of private air travel.

Indians cut off from their home country took advantage to enable them to repatriate, but the risk of transmitting the emerging new variant of Covid-19 from the country forced the hand of the UAE’s General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA).

The governing body threatened to ban private jet operators from pooling charter flights between passengers and issued an official circular to remind business jet firms that selling seats on a per person basis was prohibited.

“The GCAA announcement is targeting a specific market that practise pooling on a private charter,” said Mr Ghorbani.

“Charter flights are designed for a high-net worth passenger and are safer in terms of spreading the virus.

“I believe the market will continue to increase if no major lockdowns happen again and we will be able to go to pre-pandemic levels by the end of 2021 and early 2022.”