With tailwinds gradually picking up, Directional Aviation Capital’s principal Kenn Ricci announced his OneSky Flight’s Flexjet unit will expand its European presence in 2021.
Before the Covid-19 Coronavirus crisis, plans had called for a launch this month during the annual EBACE exhibition in Geneva, Switzerland.
This is not about propping up a service for the wealthy, as some have inaccurately portrayed it. It’s about preserving the jobs of thousands and ensuring that an industry that touches Americans across all income levels and geographies continues to thrive in a post-pandemic world– Kenn Ricci, principal, Directional Aviation
Separately, Ricci said Flexjet is expanding and extending its program of positioning its pilots using private jets to minimize exposure to Covid-19. After starting with six bases, it is adding four more through at least September. One industry study shows Coronavirus exposure risk is 30 times lower when flying privately.
While Flexjet is reviewing Project Lift every 90 days, he said the expectation is the operation will continue indefinitely. “When you feel safe flying on an airline, going to a sporting event, then we can undo the project.”
Ricci disclosed the company will begin testing all flight crews for the virus. In the next several days, it is launching an app enabling pilots to report temperature, pulse, and blood pressure three times daily as part of a 10-point checklist. The company is sending kits with thermometers and blood pressure monitors to its flight crews.
Earlier this year, Flexjet completed a fleetwide program applying MicroShield 360. The proprietary EPA-registered, FDA-approved antimicrobial coating system kills 99.99% of bacteria. The process ensures treated surfaces are constantly reducing germs on surfaces 24/7, the company said.
In a major move, Ricci said his Sentient Jet unit, a leader in jet cards with $300 million in annual sales, will add a series of health-safety protocols. They will become part of its Sentient Certified requirements for partner private jet operators that provide flights for members.
Sentient, he said, will offer operators the same medical kits and app that Flexjet pilots use. Those operators will also be required to have any aircraft used for Sentient member flights treated with MicroShield 360.
The company is currently working on a full communication and training plan for the partner operators with the goal of having it implemented by the end of June, he said.
Sentient’s current operator certification program uses over 100 million pieces of unique data covering aircraft, pilots, airports, and other daily-use operational information designed to exceed the government’s Part 135 standards.
For PrivateFly, Ricci said the tech-forward private jet charter broker would offer customers both operators following the new health-safety protocols and those that don’t.
He added the unit will continue its fixed-price City Pairs in Europe. However, he doesn’t see it expanding in the U.S beyond select transcontinental routes.
“There’s a different cost to fly from New York to Palm Beach on a Friday afternoon in the winter as opposed to a Wednesday, so that structure doesn’t really work here,” he said.
OneSky received $84 million in CARES Act funds as part of the Payroll Support Program.
“This is not about propping up a service for the wealthy, as some have inaccurately portrayed it. It’s about preserving the jobs of thousands and ensuring that an industry that touches Americans across all income levels and geographies continues to thrive in a post-pandemic world,” he said.
Business aviation is responsible for over 1.2 million jobs in the U.S. and contributes over $230 billion to the American economy.
Ricci noted the money is already being put into action. Employees who had voluntarily agreed to defer pay have now had their salaries restored. They’ve also received the compensation that had been withheld.
Funds are also being used to support the expansion of its ferry program for pilots. The extra staging points will cut the time it takes for pilots to commute to the positioning flights. He said some monies might also be earmarked for aircraft orders, supporting jobs at OEMs.
As part of the PSP program, employers have to maintain payroll for eight quarters. They can’t cut jobs but can use the funds for other non-payroll activities, he said. Rules also cap compensation for high salaried employees.
“Even though it’s called payroll support, that’s not really what it is. You can’t lower your payroll…You can’t cut jobs, but you can use it for other activities. We are going to use this to improve safety and sustainability,” he said.
He said, “We are disappointed that some of our largest peers who would have qualified for PSP funding did not apply. They, too, could have had more capital to support employees, suppliers, vendors, and more importantly, our industry’s growth.”
He continued, “No matter how much capital you have, you would be remiss if you didn’t take an opportunity to inject more capital into the opportunities available in our industry. We think failure to obtain funds under the PSP is an opportunity missed for them to do their part to position the industry for a better, stronger post-Covid-19 future.”
NetJets declined to comment.
In terms of taking the funds, Ricci added, “We applied not knowing what requirements the Treasury would impose; but, had there been a financial requirement similar to the PPP program requiring that the company not have other sources of financing, we would not have qualified; however, this is not a requirement of the PSP program,”
Ricci also pointed to some green shoots. In April, Sentient’s sales were up year-over-year. Flexjet is seeing more flying, plus interest from new customers and existing corporate accounts who want to expand the use of private aviation.
The Directional boss also noted the McKinsey data showing 90% of those who could afford to fly privately before the pandemic didn’t. The consultancy predicts demand from first-time users.
Based on Credit Suisse and Wealth-X data, the average age of HNWs is 58; 40% of billionaires are over 70 years old, so high-risk profiles for Covid-19. The McKinsey presentation indicated over one million potential new prospects.
However, Ricci said it’s too early to get excited. Current customers involved in oil, restaurants, and universities are likely to cut back negating at least some gains from newbies.
In terms of expansion, Flexjet’s four aircraft by-the-day Gulfstream G650 fractional share program is currently sold out. Depending on how events unfold, there is interest in expanding it. Prior to the Covid-19 crisis, plans called for adding two of the ultra-long-haul large-cabin jets this year.
Ricci didn’t rule out acquisitions, although he hinted any will most likely be abroad. “I’m trying to make this an international company.”
He said he doesn’t have target companies but is interested in owned fleet operators. He’s looking for specific fleet types with standard configurations. He said they wouldn’t necessarily be large operators. but might have four or five aircraft.