By Bev Fearis, published 30/09/20
ATPI has seen an increase of several hundred per cent in private charters being booked per quarter amid the pandemic, most of this within its specialist marine and energy business. Identifying this as a wider trend, John Nixon, ATPI Group Global Director of Operations, spoke to The Business Travel Magazine to outline how corporates can make charters a viable option.
Navigating complex regulations
A very important stage in charter planning is seeking the appropriate approvals for a flight to operate from the relevant local governments and official agencies. This also involves relationship building and a knowledge of how government decision-making processes work in individual countries, which can be very different. Building in the time to get this right is a vital factor in having half a chance to make a charter flight work at the moment. One country may state that in order to land, the crew cannot disembark the aeroplane. While that may sound simple, it adds another layer to the planning as crew need to be sufficiently rested in order to safely operate the flight for its onward journey. These factors have to be built into the cost and time planning.
In this environment, it is commonplace that crew and passengers need to be tested for Covid-19 before embarking or on arrival in the chosen destination. Sourcing the space and a safe location to carry this out – as well as trained individuals to do tests and process results – is another factor that previously was never part of a TMC’s remit. At ATPI we have also been booking appropriate hotels for people to undertake self-isolation as part of quarantine requirements. This is very different to usual business travel needs, and takes significant duty of care expertise.
In order to keep people safe, many organisations also have their own social distancing guidelines for their people and where possible these need to be respected when on-board an aircraft. Allocating seats is therefore no longer about filling manifests, but about careful space planning.
Different aircraft are capable of different journey lengths and passenger volumes, and even landing at certain airports. This decision isn’t usually made by the person booking a flight seat, the airline has already allocated the best aircraft for that particular route. When organising a charter flight, all of these factors must be taken into consideration. Finding anything from a six-seater to a 500-passenger aircraft is the easy part. If an aeroplane has to land in order to refuel, this adds another layer of government approvals and meeting Covid-19 safety protocols. Governments rightly have the remit to protect their citizens and so stringent checks and measures should be expected. In the case of the Covid-19 pandemic, it is also not unusual for requirements to change quickly and once quotes and costs are approved, the aircraft may not in fact be the appropriate choice for that charter if it cannot operate in the required way.
One of the areas where costs of a private charter can be reduced is if a ‘dead leg’ can be avoided and the plane can be used for another flight near to your required destinations. It might be the case that a different size aircraft to the one you need is in fact more cost effective, because someone else can charter it on another nearby route. Remember with a charter that there are some cost commitments that need to be made before the charter can even take to the air. If your business is exploring a charter, it is worth being aware of the cost implications up front. Take-off and landing slots need to be booked and paid for ahead of official approvals for international departures and arrivals coming through. ATPI has worked creatively with our clients, including looking across our clients and their industry sectors to recognise routes and destinations that are popular hubs and selling seats on private charters to other businesses with similar travel challenges.
Partnerships and networks
Setting up and managing charter flights is still a very manual operation. It relies on having the right broker contacts and in-depth knowledge of the airports and official channels in the countries in which the flight needs to operate. These are often not the main global airport hubs such as London, Frankfurt, New York or Paris. During the pandemic these specialist networks have been exceptionally powerful, allowing our teams to expedite government approvals for flights and work together with industry bodies in sectors such as shipping, to ensure that charter flights are maximised across different companies. By being part of a supportive industry with common goals and challenges, we’ve been able to identify the destinations that particularly needed air capacity and operated flights that both our clients and other organisations have been able to access in order repatriate their people.
The future of charters
Whilst charters aren’t yet part of the day-to-day fabric of business travel across all industry sectors, they have become essential to any industry where travel is a critical part of their operations. Our clients in sectors such as fuel, food and medicine have had to be able to move their people and charters are now becoming part of their travel mix. We expect private charters to be part of the corporate travel mix for some time. This may also be because scheduled airlines have cut capacity in certain routes, or regional carriers have gone out of business, and a destination is not served. Market demand for charters is there, and it is beginning to move into other industry sectors as organisations plan for the future of how they may move their people.