Robb Reader: Apertus Aviation founder Ringo Fan

One of Asia’s leading players in the private jet market on trends in the region which are set to head west.

How is the Asian private jet market different to that in the west right now?
Trends aside, the main difference between the markets is the traveller. Asian customers are often more numerically driven in their purchase decisions – price, number of seats, aircraft model, crew hours, flight range and so on – whilst European customers are more emotionally driven – service, comfort, quality – and this impacts the trends being seen from region to region. That said, we’re seeing a number of trends being adopted by concierge service providers and businesses transporting their executives around that are highly likely to be seen in Europe and the USA in the near future.

In terms of leisure travel, we’ve seen an enormous rise in ultra-private package holidays. These include air bubbles where you can keep your social distance with your own private party from the moment you leave home until you’re relaxing on your own stretch of private beach.  This has led to a sharp increase in enquiries from luxury travel agents, customising their tours and packages with private flying.

From a more corporate side, we’re seeing more corporations incorporate private travel into their operations. With increased efficiency, flexibility, privacy and service, flying privately is becoming an essential tool for Asian companies moving their executives around the continent.

“Flexibility” seems to be the buzzword of the moment – why is that?
It’s certainly a vital consideration at present. Alongside the flexibility that plying private offers over commercial flights, our service has always been ultra-personalised at Apertus Aviation, and we’ve observed a great increase in one-way bookings, with around 70 per cent of booked flights in 2020 being one-way. This allows for travellers to shift gears and change plans even during their stay, keeping an eye on world events, outbreak levels and quarantine guidelines. Travellers want the freedom to make changes when they arrive without any unnecessary worries.

The other buzzword at the moment is tractability. There has been a sharp rise in requests for medium-term solutions such as block hour programmes and aircraft leasing – up by 500 per cent. To meet this demand, we created a programme that gives companies 60 days of unlimited flying within a specified region. We have clients who have said: “Look, we’re concerned about availability of planes, so we want to make sure we can still secure planes, and run our business for the next 60 days, as there are so many places we need to go, and so many deals that still need to get done.” There are some limits to this, notably where the clients are planning on flying to and how many passengers the flights would carry, but once we know this, we can set up a programme package.

On another level, we’re seeing an increase in requests for in-depth information regarding the journey. That includes information about the plane itself – cleanliness, flight crew, travel history and so on – and information about the destination: currencies, local rules concerning the pandemic and so on. Due to our global team of regional experts, we’ve been able to provide this local knowledge to our clients, helping to strengthen our global network and in turn improve business.

Do you see the increase in demand for private aviation being a long-term thing, and why?
Yes, absolutely. In the short term the main change in business has been a big uptick in first-time private flyers – notably with individuals and corporations who might have possessed the means to fly privately but have until now chosen otherwise. Whilst the ability to avoid large crowds and minimise contact with others is proving invaluable in current times, we have no doubt that the value being seen in the increased flexibility, attention to detail and tractability of the service is going to continue to be a major pull to customers as everyone adapts to the new normal in the longer term.

Is there any difference in the type of planes requested?
Actually yes. We have more and more requests for smaller aircrafts. We’re still seeing a high demand for long-haul aircraft with a high number of repatriation flights bringing clients back to Asia from Europe, but this bucks the trend we’ve been seeing up until now that was a growing demand for larger aircraft. Bigger is not always better when it comes to the current pandemic, and keeping passenger lists small and part of a tight social circle.

Another difference is that we’re seeing more emphasis placed on the emotional element to the customer decision-making process. Our clients are being more mindful about the types of aircraft requested based on it being more ‘purposeful’ for their need: not just about how luxurious the aircraft is.

What other changes in the industry do you foresee over the coming years?
What happens next is an incredibly challenging question across all industries and ultimately, it’s too soon to tell exactly what will happen. Vague exit strategies from lockdown are keeping us in a state of constant evolution and uncertainty but our priority is to gather as much information as we can.

What we can say is that the industry has huge potential to adapt to the new normal and come back from the pandemic even stronger than before. Having long seen flexibility and service at the forefront of the customer thought process, we’re now finding safety, privacy and regional insight are playing key roles: something our business model is able to adapt to well. Our global presence and in-depth knowledge of our key regions has allowed us to understand and adapt to the local rules and guidelines which are in a constant state of fluctuation. It’s important for aviation personnel to know and react quickly this this, and we foresee this will be required for some time.

We did a flight in June from Munich to Wuhan that was the first foreign registered business aircraft to land in Wuhan following the city’s public health prevention level being downgraded. This can happen due to our close relationship with oversea partners, allowing for us to adapt quickly. In this case, our China office was able to coordinate with the local authority allowing for this journey to take place.

We’re all having to react quickly to the changing environment and adopt new concepts and ideas to keep with the times – something our global network has helped with – but while the future of travel remains uncertain, we anticipate seeing lasting positive effects across the industry, as a result of the initiatives we are implementing now. Not only have we increased our health and safety measures across the board, but we’ve also partnered with Trees for All, a foundation based in the Netherlands, whose mission is to plant new forests worldwide and restore existing forests. Our partnership will see 10 trees donated with every booking. Trees for All’s mission is to contribute to a better climate and biodiversity. Currently, the programme not only offsets carbon emissions by planting new forests worldwide and restoring existing forests, but it also contributes to improving the standard of living for those in developing countries.

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