While the focus of revolution.aero, a conference organized by Corporate Jet Investor here in San Francisco, was squarely on how technology will change the way we fly – including commuting to work aboard battery-powered airplanes and supersonic private jets within the next decade – charter customers will continue to want high touch service said, several executives.
Craig Ross, founder and CEO of Aviation Portfolio, a consultancy which advises customers who fly via on-demand charter, jet cards, and fractional ownership or leases, challenged a panel about the future of charter brokers. He compared the middlemen to high-end travel advisors and wealth managers who overcame the onslaught of billions of dollars in venture capital funding to outflank online competitors by providing value to their customers.
While David Fox, the CEO of Stellar Labs called the private jet charter market the “last travel segment not to be digitalized,” Eymeric Segard, the founder and CEO of LunaJets said its customers who spend an average of $22,000 per trip want “perfect service.”
Paolo Sommariva, CEO of FL3XX, which helps charter operators and brokers automate workflows for team members and managers, told the audience of inventors, investors, and business aviation executives that comparisons of bizav technology solutions to Uber are oversimplified. “One is hopping in a car for a short trip for pennies” while private flights entail significant preparation behind the scenes, he said.
Segard noted while it’s “easy to put a buy button” on a website arranging a private jet charter flights takes human involvement, from sorting out that oversize luggage will fit to arranging slots for changing executive schedules and varied weather conditions.
Gillian Hayes, CEO of Aviaam, which is attempting to streamline general aviation procurement, wasn’t sure that venture capital has the appetite to fund the “massive losses” that it would take to disrupt the charter market.
“We have a lot of clients who want a recommendation on the cabin because they don’t know,” Segard said. A member of the audience posited that operators aren’t anxious to adopt cutting-edge technology worried that commoditization will lower margins.
One issue not covered was owner approval. With the majority of charter aircraft owned by individuals and operated on their behalf by management companies, owners have to often approve charters meaning even while technology can connect brokers and help streamline some functions, finalizing a deal requires waiting for the aircraft owner to give the go ahead.
Other barriers to bringing everything online include lack of branding by operators and customers who want to make sure their pilots are well experienced. “There are so many things going into booking a tailor-made flight…You still need human assurance,” Segard said. Ross estimated that brokers currently control 80% of the private jet charter market, something that may not be changing in the near future.