• Mar 09, 2013

When you want a private jet in a jiffy

For high-net-worth flyers, the "on-demand" economy means more than just conjuring a movie, pizza or booty call at the tap of an iPhone screen. Flyers of a certain status want to be able to book a private jet at a moment's notice.

"Click, book, buy and pay, that's our raison d'etre," says Clive Jackson, CEO and founder of Victor, an Uber-like app (only instead of taxis, you book private jets).

Victor's growth (an average of 142.93% per annum over the last three years) helps tell the story of an industry on the rebound: private jet travel.

Since the 2008 recession, private jets have not exactly been a financial priority, even for the uber-rich.

This year, however, there has been an uptick in jet charter bookings for the first time in years, at least in Western Europe.

The recently released Victor Private Jet Travel Report, which incorporates independent research from WingX -- highlights how (and where) this $14 billion industry is growing. In Europe, France has the biggest appetite for private jet travel, followed by Germany and the United Kingdom.

"It shows that the French have a lot of international interests and significant ambition to continue to grow and beat the rest of Europe in taking a bigger slice of that global pie," says Jackson.

"They're more willing to justify an aircraft as a business tool that will give them a competitive advantage."

Like a time machine for the rich



Chartering a jet doesn't necessarily offer a better service than a first-class ticket, and the price is on par -- if not more expensive (roughly $6,000 for a one-way, short-haul ticket).

What it does have above commercial flight is a considerable saving in time.

"Our consumers want to get many more hours out of a single day, which we know is impossible, but if done correctly, private flight can feel like a time machine," says Jackson.

Compared to commercial flight, private jet charter is fast and flexible. Customers can get on a plane an hour after booking and not suffer the rigmarole of airport security.

They can also be picked up and dropped off at smaller, private airports closer to their desired destination, and can turn their cabin into a miniature office during flight.

Jackson describes a recent customer who used Victor to fly from London to Geneva for an 11 a.m. meeting, back to the UK for an afternoon lecture, into Paris for a speech at a fundraising event, then back into London by 10 p.m.

"If he hadn't been able to put together his own itinerary with that jet program, it would have been mission impossible," notes Jackson.

The 'empty leg' discount

Making the connection between supply and demand less obscure has also helped bring down the price of private jets. For example, if an operator has an "empty leg," -- that is, they've flown someone one way and face a potentially empty cabin on the return flight -- they can offer a discount for that leg of the journey.

In this way, private flight has become more affordable, and more accessible, than ever before.

Victor is one of several companies that offer the discounted "empty leg" option, in addition to PrivateFly, a European charter company, and U.S. charter company JetSuite, which posts several empty leg sales daily (they dub these "SuiteDeals") via Facebook and Twitter.

These range from $499 to $1,499 for one leg of a journey on either a Phenom 100 (which seats up to four) or a CJ3 (which can seat six). That price is not per person; it's per aircraft.

"Some of those trips are silly, like Santa Monica to Van Nuys. But sometimes you can get an entire plane for $499 that flies from Los Angeles to New York, and you can split the price between four people," says JetSuite CEO Alex Wilcox. Granted, he notes, "that's a rarity."