Christophe Lapierre, Chief Commercial Officer at Luxaviation Group, talks about the company’s stunning new uniform redesign and about growing market share
Despite the charter market shrinking by an average of some 6% year on year over the last two years, Luxaviation has managed to stay steady thanks to a fierce focus on quality, according to the Group’s Chief Commercial Officer, Christophe Lapierre.
The most visible sign of the company’s constant striving to improve customer service standards is the new uniforms it debuted in April this year. However, the high-quality ‘look back’ to the glamour age of luxury flying represented by the new designs is just part of an unrelenting effort on all fronts, from building broker relations to providing top-quality aircraft management services.
Q: The new uniforms look great. What was the thinking behind the design?
A: We really wanted to come up with a design that would be reminiscent of a time when air travel was synonymous with glamour and luxury. The new, elegant look for our cabin crew was created by Luxaviation’s Group Client Service Manager, Jana App-Sandering, who went back to Dior’s iconic ‘New Look’ hourglass silhouette for her inspiration. Jana and everyone at Luxaviation are delighted with the response both from our cabin crews and from customers.
Jana says she wanted to present an “upscale private jet experience” for customers, both owners and charter customers. Our female cabin crews look both gorgeous and glamorous wearing them. They enable us to provide a really high standard when we welcome and say goodbye to customers. Importantly, the high heels that go with the look are replaced by flat ballet shoes during cabin service. Also the uniforms themselves are of a comfortable, durable material that can withstand long working hours in the air. This frees cabin crew to focus on what really matters, providing outstanding customer service.
Q: Are the new uniforms just for a select part of the Luxaviation operation?
A: No. The new uniforms are an important step towards a common look right across the Group. They are already being rolled out globally to all our operations around the world. We will have the new pilot uniforms, which follow the same inspirational design, later this summer.
Q: How is the charter market doing right now?
A: We have 150 aircraft in all the major markets apart from North America on charter, out of a total of 255 managed aircraft. The market is doing well enough, though it is still behind the strong years that we saw prior to the global financial crash of 2008. We have had a few years recently where the charter market has trended down some 5-10% in recent years, but Luxaviation has stayed stable. This means we have actually been growing our market share at the expense of competitors in the market, some of who have seen quite significant drops in charter flights.
Q: Have you seen significant differences in terms of regional demand?
A: Regions tend to be quite seasonal. This is traditionally a quieter time of year for the European charter business, and we expect it to be more buoyant as the summer goes on. However, Africa and Australasia are performing well right now and demand is strong. The Middle East, like Europe, is seasonally quiet through the first quarter.
Q: Are you seeing any particular strength in the various categories of light jets, mid-size and long range?
A: We have a strong presence in all categories. When the market shrank after 2008 the first to suffer were the smaller categories and they are still not back to their best. So long range continues to be the leading category for our business, though we are seeing some pick-up in the mid-size.
Q: Operators flying light jets in Europe seem to be doing quite well now. Do you see the concept of a light jet oriented air taxi service sector gaining strength?
A: I respect the competition across the field, in all sizes. Competition is healthy. However, the downturn made the charter market very competitive and that makes it very difficult in general for smaller operators, and we have seen and expect to continue to see the market consolidate in this sector. For our part, we strive every day to keep on making further improvements to the quality of our offerings and to maintain the highest level of safety standards for owners and clients. This striving to constantly raise the quality is not, it seems to me, a general trend in our industry, where people are often looking to shave costs and increase margins. However, I believe that our approach is the right one. We get tremendous feedback from our clients on our efforts in this respect.
What is clear is that clients are looking for stronger operators who can give them visibility and transparency as to how their aircraft are being managed and run. All operators have a duty to keep improving quality and to uphold the most rigorous safety standards.
Q: How important are brokers to your business?
A: Brokers are very important to us and we work hard to build solid relationships with them. The size of our fleet means that they can be confident that no matter how demanding their client’s needs are, we can offer the aircraft that meet the client’s expectations and help them build customer satisfaction. We make an absolute point of building that relationship with the broker, so that they know that we are never going to be looking to try to get their customer for ourselves. We honour their relationship with the client and we look to support it by providing a first-class service.
What the broker needs, as well, is visibility and quality. They expect to see what Luxaviation Group is doing in terms of maintaining safety and being in compliance not just with the letter but with the spirit of the regulations governing our sector. Moreover, with one call they get access to 150 aircraft world-wide.
At the same time, we try to achieve a balance in our business between our direct customers, who fly charter with us regularly, and the business that brokers bring to us. Both the direct channel and the broker channel are very important to us.
We also organise events from time to time, such as when we take delivery of a new aircraft model, so that brokers can come to see the aircraft at a specific airport and can talk to the cabin crew and the pilots. This helps the broker to get familiar with that aircraft type and to see the quality that we are able to provide to their clients.
Q: What about empty legs? Are they a problem for you and how do you deal with them?
A: We are fortunate in having a strong customer base, so when we have to reposition an aircraft we can generally find someone from within our customer base who wants to make that particular journey. So we can usually find the right customer to bring the aircraft back to the right airport.
Q: What is reasonable, in terms of the number of charter hours per year, for an owner who does not use his or her aircraft a lot?
A: The key always is to be absolutely honest with the owner when you are setting their expectations about the level of charter business they can expect their aircraft to achieve. If it is a new jet and they seldom use the aircraft, we can achieve a significant number of hours for them, enough to defray some or all of their fixed costs and leave them with just the variable costs. But the owner who never uses his jet is someone who is absolutely going to dispose of that jet, since it is an expensive asset and as such needs to be managed appropriately. So you have to have a good feel for the kinds of demands that the owner’s business affairs and private travel are going to place on the aircraft. It all depends on the lifestyle of the owner. The main thing is to understand the owner’s needs and expectations and to be totally honest and upfront about what can be achieved.