As the final words for this summer edition of Executive & VIP Aviation International were typed in late May, many business aviation companies were struggling for survival. Others were managing to continue the fight while simultaneously reinventing aspects of their operation to support medical authorities and charities, or return those stranded abroad home. EVA spoke to seven organisations about their own pandemic journey
Gulfstream: Business (almost) As Usual
Gulfstream flew its second G700 flight-test aircraft for the first time on 20 March, following up with its third jet on 8 May; three days later, the company announced EASA type certification for the G600. These are busy times at Gulfstream, which has worked hard to keep its staff safe and well.
The Savannah-based OEM says it has implemented social distancing measures, established on-site temperature screenings and provided employees with PPE, increased the frequency and intensity of facility and aircraft cleaning, and encouraged employees to stay home if they feel unwell. A strong partnership with the FAA means that where appropriate, regular Webex meetings have enabled document reviews and other discussions.
With three trials vehicles flying, the G700 flight-test programme has not only continued without delay, but actually gained momentum. First customer delivery in 2022 is still the goal, while flutter testing, envelope expansion and dynamics of flight, and other trials, are continuing at pace.
The aerospace sector has responded quickly and decisively to calls for help from medical and government authorities and Gulfstream is no exception, donating 10,000 pieces of PPE and other items. Protective suits, masks, gloves and hand sanitiser have come from company stocks, while 3D-printed supplies have included surgical mask tension-release bands. Almost US$100,000 in funding has also been given to non-profit organisations, while a request from General Dynamics sister company General Dynamics Land Systems, led Gulfstream to produce more than 50 ventilator mask adapters for a clinical trial in Canada.
Elsewhere, for Gulfstream’s customer support network it has been business almost as normal. Following Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization guidelines on social distancing, PPE and facility and aircraft cleaning, the company has continued servicing and supporting the global Gulfstream fleet, while many customers have taken the opportunity to have the OEM’s service centres perform scheduled inspections and planned maintenance.
JetClass: FlightPooling for Everyone
Vienna-headquartered JetClass describes itself as a private business airline. Using powerful data analysis and AI tools, it enables passengers to book seats on private jets for the same price as a business class ticket on a scheduled airliner, but charges no membership fees. With 300 shared and 1,000 private charters behind it, the company has already proven its model, but as Chief Business Officer, Fahim Jalali explains, the coronavirus pandemic caused a rethink. The result was FlightPooling, a non-profit charter sharing concept launched on 4 May to help those with essential travel needs during the crisis, but with obvious potential for the future.
“Devising a viable travel option for the masses who need to travel today, we wanted to find a solution that had the potential to outlive the corona epidemic, in that its principles and benefits should remain favourable to the general public indefinitely. While currently non-profit, the FlightPooling option has the characteristics to appeal to people based on the new travel culture of avoiding larger airports and, where possible, widebodied aircraft. Judging by the feedback we’ve been receiving, the market is enthusiastic about FlightPooling’s future.
“For now it is very much a one-way service – we don’t wish to encourage non-essential travel by creating return trips at present. It is essential people appreciate the tool and service as a means of securing urgent travel and use it accordingly. We’ve already received enough subscriptions to some destinations to take action and we’re working on flights involving Dubai, Male, Delhi, Auckland, Zurich, London and Milan.
“FlightPooling was created to help everyone, regardless of their financial situation. We were adamant the initiative would be not-for-profit and that we would aim to create a solution for every subscriber if we possibly could. This means using various sizes of aircraft depending on the request. For example, we received a 100+ passenger group request for a long-haul flight on a large jet, while at the same time speaking to a small family hoping to fly intra-Europe with their pet, on a small jet. We’ll aim to execute both flights with an equal level of consideration given to health and safety while appreciating that one client may be financially more flexible than the other.
“Through FlightPooling, we hope we will emerge in the aftermath of this awful global tragedy knowing that we did all we could, when we could, as best we could.”
On Air Dining: Equipped to Care
Suddenly finding himself with just a handful of daily flights to cater for, On Air Dining CEO Daniel Hulme put his Farnborough expansion on temporary hold (at the time of going to press it was due to reopen imminently), furloughed several staff and then looked around to see how he could put the company’s perishable food stocks, expertise and vehicle fleet to good use helping others through the pandemic.
With the business working solely from its Stansted headquarters, Hulme talked to his regular suppliers and secured fresh stocks at favourable prices, enabling the remaining On Air Dining team to create quality hot meals for no more than £5 per serving. Aside from having the right staff and refrigerated vehicles to hand, On Air Dining had the advantage of its specialist aircraft catering business, which meant custom-designed packaging was readily available; the company was quickly supplying much-needed meals.
Hulme is covering costs including manpower and delivery, and an On Air Dining JustGiving page is helping cover the cost of the food – by mid-May it had raised £800 and the team was hoping additional donations would enable a weekly donation to those in need locally. Speaking in early April, Hulme revealed: “We’re supporting a charity in Nottingham that works with orphaned and high-risk kids, and supplying other charities we’ve been working with for a few years. With those, we’ve been feeding around 150 homeless people on Christmas day, plus we produce meals for some really vulnerable old people who only get out once a month. Anything we’ve got left after these and the Nottingham children is pumped into our local NHS [National Health Service].”
Osprey Flight Solutions: Open for Business
Osprey Flight Solutions fuses real-time information, technology and industry leading expertise to deliver advanced aviation risk analysis to business, commercial and government aviation customers. It covers a spectrum from rapid alerts through real-time reporting to fully customisable reports that are accessible instantaneously and up to date to the minute they are produced.
A global pandemic might, therefore, be a time for the Osprey team to sit back and wait for the work to come in. But instead, while new clients are undoubtedly finding their way to the company’s door and the crisis will reveal to others the importance and quality of Osprey’s work, thoughts at the Hampshire HQ have turned to helping the aviation industry weather the storm.
First and foremost, Osprey has launched Osprey:Open, a free, map-based platform providing layers of regularly updated global aviation security data, customisable by the individual user. The subscription includes a daily email alert summary and ad hoc critical alert emails, and will remain free in future. As a big-picture resource, it is probably unsurpassed. The company is also offering free webinars, with informed safety and security comment from industry experts in the wake of COVID-19, and offering a comprehensive programme of security and pandemic updates via social media.
Chief Commercial Officer Bruce Norfolk explains: “Osprey:Open launched in March this year, and the concept behind the platform was to enable a cross-industry improvement in risk management. We’ve continued to develop how :Open covers the COVID-19 pandemic, including adding related NOTAMs and biosecurity measures – data that is so critical to the industry during these challenging times.
“Osprey:Open remains completely free of charge and anyone in the industry can register to gain access to this crucial data.”
TailHail: Launching a Charter Challenge
While many companies are struggling and others adapting to the COVID-19 crisis, very few are starting anew. This does not seem the time for start-ups, yet TailHail, an online membership-based charter platform that CEO James Moon says, “…will allow any individual, group or businesses to find, book and fly on a private jet at accessible and affordable prices,” is doing exactly that.
Moon admits that the timing is in part because the launch process had gained too much momentum to stop, but also that the evolving, extraordinary global situation represents an emerging opportunity. “I’ve been working on TailHail for many years and secured investment earlier this year to get it off the ground. I believe we couldn’t be launching TailHail at a more opportune time. Timing is everything in business and more people will want to fly privately after the crisis.”
TailHail’s launch is, indeed, fresh. During the few weeks in which Moon and EVA corresponded, the company’s website evolved considerably, albeit to a standard Moon described as ‘basic’, with completion expected in July or August. “In phase two later this year, on the back of a hopefully successful series-two round of funding, we will roll out our app, which will put us and our customers in a league of our own given the technology we’ll be employing.”
Moon says that within 24 hours of the holding website going live early in May, he’d received six enquiries and several emails asking about the cost of chartering. “We haven’t even begun our marketing yet and based on this early response I’m looking forward to marketing the TailHail brand and carving a niche in this very competitive space. We know it will be tough, but I think the team and our technology will offer something a little different.”
By mid-May, charter proposals were already with clients looking to fly with TailHail. “It’s very exciting,” Moon says, but
“…we’re starting small so we remain flexible in the current environment, with a view to raising investment to support technology developments later this year and begin the process of obtaining a Type B AOC, so that we can manage aircraft on behalf of owners. I feel that sector has yet to enter the 21st century and it will be great to cause positive disruption. Through my aircraft sales experience, I’d also like to still be able help to those who prefer to own rather than charter.”
But there are already several charter apps and membership schemes on the market, so how is TailHail different? “There are a lot of platforms out there, some of them fantastic,” Moon declares. “But we want to be different. We don’t want to rely on one part of the business fuelling our brand, that’s why we plan to move into aircraft management and sales. And, we know aircraft very well, we aren’t just a tech company.”
TailHail looks ready to grab a share of an emerging post-pandemic market for private flying, a market Moon expects to persist. “It won’t just be an initial rush and then gone. I believe habits and buying motives for flying have changed for good. Health is at the forefront of every decision and will remain so for a good three to five years at least; besides, why would you go back to flying on a crowded airliner after flying privately?”
VistaJet: Global Focus
The epitome of global business aviation, VistaJet began reacting to the emerging pandemic as the first coronavirus cases were reported late in 2019. Since then, it has introduced a range of evolving procedures and precautions to keep its passengers and personnel safe.
Working closely with its partners, including Osprey for risk control and assessment advice, and MedAire for medical support on the ground and in the air, VistaJet has implemented twice-daily checks for symptoms among its crews and stringent procedures for passengers. Meanwhile, cabin cleaning processes have been enhanced and aircraft are subject to what VistaJet calls ‘a full sanitisation cycle’. Further cleaning and treatment are completed at crew request should the presence of someone exposed to coronavirus be suspected.
Recognising that some customers might prefer a dedicated aircraft over the short term, VistaJet also implemented Dynamic Jet Lease, providing a jet and crew, stationed at the closest available airport, for a period of one, two or three months.
As well as keeping those customers who wish to and are able to travel on the move, VistaJet has employed its global infrastructure to assist governments and medical organisations, while offering complimentary empty legs to repatriate citizens and transport critical supplies and doctors. In a March press release, VistaJet founder and chairman Thomas Flohr said: “We know we don’t normally offer repatriation flights or the transportation of medical equipment but, ultimately, we are a logistics company and we are here to help the global community as much as we can. We are in this fight together.”
Up & Away: Demand for Disinfection
It should come as no surprise that specialist aircraft valeting and cleaning company Up & Away has seen cabin disinfection become its primary focus. Its first booking for the service came in on 27 February, some weeks before the UK went into lockdown. By mid-May, the company had completed in excess of 700 disinfections, Managing Director and owner Stefan Murphy confirming that around 70% of these had been on business aircraft.
Blessed with admirable foresight, Murphy made an early, significant investment in equipment and PPE, which means his staff remained safe as demand ramped up.
He says nothing about the process of disinfecting a cabin has changed, except that operators have begun to take the requirement seriously and want cabins treating after every flight.
Social distancing has meant reducing staff numbers on board, but Murphy says: “Most customers understand the extended times needed to complete a job due to the smaller teams. Meanwhile, we are open and it’s business as usual across the whole operation.”
The crisis has seen Up & Away’s customer base widen to include cargo aircraft, police helicopters and air ambulances, the latter an easy extension of its regular VIP helicopter work. Murphy reports: “Prior to COVID-19 we were gearing up for a very busy year. We’d just secured a new contract with NetJets and our business aviation fixed-contract activity had grown to around 70 aircraft on fixed monthly fees. We also added bases at London City and Manchester Airports, and had increased staffing levels by 50%.”
Alongside his existing bases at Doncaster, Leeds, Luton, Farnborough, Biggin Hill, Oxford, Prestwick and Stansted, Murphy had planned to add up to four new bases in Europe this year. “This is still very much the plan,” he says, “but we’ll revisit it in 2021.”