In the final UAS Forward Discussion at EBACE, we put the focus on charter operations, the relationship between charter brokers and operators, and how this dynamic will continue to evolve in the future. We were delighted to welcome some of the industry’s outstanding charter experts representing both brokers and large and small operators. They were Julie Black of Hunt and Palmer, Bernhard Fragner of Globe Air, Fadi Al Samad of Elit’Avia, and Alex Durand of SaxonAir. We were also happy to welcome the European Business Aviation Association’s (EBAA’s) Paul Walsh as moderator. As well as giving a great insight into the current state of the charter market globally, the panel discussion also explored whether smaller operators could compete with the rise of the mega operator.
Returning to normal service levels
When compared to the service standard of 2019, there was mutual agreement that the air charter industry is entering a new phase of operations and business is continuing to pick up. According to Alex Durand from SaxonAir, pre-COVID, there was a 50-50 split between business and leisure travel demand but currently, all of the demand is coming from the leisure market and business charter has not yet returned. He described the present time as a stable environment with more controlled decision-making and better assertiveness about what can and cannot be achieved, as well as a greater awareness of anticipating events rather than reacting to them.
A mutually beneficial relationship
Considering instances of industry consolidation, Bernhard Fragner of Globe Air maintained that brokers remain at the forefront of the industry, educating people about the advantages of air charter. He said that a hybrid model is mutually beneficial as both entities support each other— it is essentially all stakeholders coming together to advance the industry as a whole. Similarly, Elit’Avia’s Fadi Al Samad said there is room in the industry for everyone to flourish and that currently, boutique operators are going the extra mile. As brokers traditionally acted as buffers between the client and operator, it is an important relationship to nurture in order to retain a personal touch. Julie Black of Hunt and Palmer agreed that both operators and brokers have their individual roles, adding that, as a broker, she was happy to hear the panelists’ appreciation for the work they do. She said that the broker can often be forgotten and find itself at the bottom of the food chain with respect to capacity.
Soaring aircraft demand
The key issue of the overwhelming demand for aircraft and other resources dominated the remainder of the discussion. The consensus was that demand is extremely high at the moment. With all the new entries to the market, this is a time of great opportunity to showcase what charter can do. However, because of market conditions such as the current shortage of available aircraft and other resources such as airport slots and even Air Traffic Controllers, this means that brokers (and operators) are often struggling to deliver the best experience to customers. It is imperative to service clients well and more available aircraft is necessary in order to do that. Currently, the very flexibility and uniqueness of the travel experience that sets charter apart from all other forms of travel is threatened as operators don’t always have access to the aircraft to supply brokers’ demands.
The importance of the bespoke
Concern was expressed that the charter industry is becoming increasingly commoditized. Because every single flight is a one-off as well as a highly personal experience and should retain its uniqueness, the more its averaged out the more this uniqueness is taken away. Charter customers deserve the choice of a wide range of aircraft, this way get the right one for their needs, with the best configuration and interiors, etc. These should be the main considerations for the best customer experience – not simply what aircraft are currently available, particularly when there are still many clients who care about more than price. Similarly, air charter professionals should be able to make recommendations based on all these individual aspects rather than purely on what’s available and the price. Clients want a memorable experience and that’s what we need to deliver. This really demonstrates why managing the client experience is central to the success of charter operations.
Listen to the full discussion on the UAS YouTube channel by clicking here.
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