NICHOLAS AIR serves a generally well-informed and exclusive selection of clients using its own aircraft fleet. Unusual among business aviation operators, how has it navigated the changing market of the past couple of years? EVA spoke with Founder and CEO Nicholas Correnti to find out
Conversations with industry people reveal a perception that business/VIP aviation has settled at a new norm, with demand higher than pre-Covid but less than at its post-Covid peak. Is that how you perceive the market? Have all those post-Covid new-to-business-aviation customers remained loyal, or have they gone back to the airlines?
By and large, our Member base has traditionally not been skewed toward the new flyer but that has shifted slightly. In the past, our Members have been almost exclusively the segment of the market that has a great deal of private flying background – aircraft owners, fractional owners, or those who have been in the jet card market before.
To our benefit, those who are new to private flying are reaching out to their network of folks with experience in flying private to see who they’d recommend. The resounding answer has been NICHOLAS AIR and we’ve welcomed those flyers into our family. I am happy at how our team has responded to the influx of seasoned and new flyers in that they’ve continued to operate at the elite level our Members expect, while never losing focus of the service aspect.
Your product is unusual and carefully defined depending on a customer’s flight hour requirements. Has it changed to suit the new norm? Have you seen your customers evolve and change the way they use NICHOLAS AIR?
I think that everyone who travels has looked at their habits over the past few years and done some form of adjustment as they shift back and forth between leisure and business needs. Our Members are quite communicative throughout the process so we can create the experience they desire from us. Certainly, the aircraft itself factors into that, so the ability to book different aircraft types to match their mission is a major benefit that they don’t find with other brands. Even the customer with a common route sees each trip change in passenger count or luggage requirements, so moving throughout the airframe types to ensure the most comfortable and efficient experience is a great benefit they find in their NICHOLAS AIR programme.
The industry, particularly in the US, has seen disruption and negative reporting in 2023 after a major operator of turboprops and jets fell into financial difficulties, and following ‘wobbles’ from other players. What’s your take on these factors and the stability of an ecosystem where so many companies claim the same USPs, operate the same way and appear to be chasing the same customers?
As they should be, the team here is well versed in the market and how different companies are managing their businesses, but we also spend time looking internally to ensure that we are providing a great product. To succeed in this business and have that financial stability you speak of means that what you’re selling must match the total experience your customers have.
In the example you’ve alluded to, the expectation versus reality seemingly never lined up and, in that case, it is always going to cause a problem. Our team is devoted to our business and making sure that what the prospect is hearing during the acquisition and onboarding process is precisely what they experience once they become a Member. It is very important to me that our Members find a service experience here unlike anywhere else in the world. Those Members can feel the attention they receive from our team and get to sit back comfortably knowing that we aren’t spending money chasing things that will only create headlines, like parties or branding ploys. Each time they step onboard with us, they see first-hand that our money was invested in their experience and their happiness as a Member.
Continuing along that theme, do you expect to see consolidation as smaller players are acquired to form larger companies? The business aviation industry has traditionally worked largely on personal relationships, but might we see larger companies gradually losing the personal touch to booking apps and usernames, while more traditional outfits continue with a sound and loyal customer base?
I know, without hesitation, that I prefer the latter. Sure, there is convenience in apps and the technology side of things, but that human interaction is what allows you to create a one-of-a-kind experience for your customer, regardless of the industry you’re in. A touchless hotel check-in would be convenient at a high-end property, but the lasting impression comes in the way the front desk interacts with you, or the tip of the hat from the doorman, or the way the concierge goes out of their way for you.
It’s the same in private aviation and while tech has changed the landscape to some extent, it could very well be a contributing factor to how some have struggled these past few years despite the surge in the market. The human element matters so much in the luxury space, and it requires considerable resources to create that high-touch culture.