Have you heard the one about the app that’s being hailed as the Uber for private jets? Of course you have. But maybe now it’s time to sit up and take notice, with JetSmarter joining the ranks of the unicorns – privately owned companies valued at more than US$1 billion. P1 downloads the leaders in this new era for jet travel.
A New Era For Jet Travel
“Private jet app”. “The Uber for private jets”. “Disrupting the market”. Honestly, it can grow a tad tiresome after a while when you receive another press release proclaiming the launch of the latest and greatest thing to hit private aviation since, well, the last app that launched and seemed to do pretty much the same thing.
Yes, it’s easy to become dismissive, but then you hear something that makes you sit up and take notice. Like with JetSmarter. Describing itself as “the world’s leading private jet company” in its latest press release may be stretching things slightly, but then they did just secure US$105 million in funding to make it the first business aviation ‘unicorn’ – a private company valued at more than US$1 billion. In fact, JetSmarter is currently valued at around US$1.5 billion. Not bad for a company only created in 2013, by Sergey Petrossov, which is only now opening an office in London, having HQs in Zurich, Dubai and Moscow.
“With Europe being one of our strongest markets, we look forward to investing more time focusing on JetSmarter’s growth within this region,” said Petrossov. “Throughout 2017, our expansion plans will allow for European members to have access to travel to more regions across Asia and India, as well as the Middle East.”
JetSmarter said that the new funds came from existing investors as well as new investors including operator JetEdge, venture capital firm KZ Capital, and an Abu Dhabi growth equity fund. Clearly investors are seeing the potential for these apps to make a genuine difference in the business aviation market.
JetSmarter claims to have created a new class of air travel that is able to offer both custom charters and unused seats across thousands of flights. By rewiring the marketplace, JetSmarter has lowered the entry cost into the private aviation market, making it more available to travellers around the world. Its technology optimises inventory to drive down prices, create availability, and gives JetSmarter the resources to continue to grow throughout the US and globally.
JetSmarter sells memberships for US$15,000 (signing up fee of US$4,000 and annual fee of US$11,000) and has more than 6,700 members. Members can book private charter, fly for free on regular shuttle services, charter shared flights and fly free on empty legs.
JetSmarter is selling itself as a private member’s club in the sky “where you are likely to bump into the likes of Kim Kardashian, Emily Ratajkowski, Alessandra Ambrosio and Gerard Butler”.
Benefits of membership include 24/7 customer support, as well as access to JetSmarter’s Concierge Service.
It’s time for apps like these to be taken seriously. Just as Uber has transformed the taxi market and been valued at US$68 billion (thereby leading the way in the unicorns), Airbnb is valued at US$30 billion. Uber owns no taxis and Airbnb no hotel rooms, so marketplace apps like JetSmarter don’t own a fleet of expensive private jets. Using technology to bring together buyers and sellers at the best possible rates means these private jet booking apps are increasing efficiencies and making or saving money for all concerned. They are also providing a welcome shot in the arm for the industry.
P1 has followed the progress of all of these apps with interest, and here we look at two UK-based companies to see how they are challenging the market, introducing more people to the benefits of private aviation, and helping the broader industry in the process.
Stratajet is the world’s first fully-automated private jet booking platform, providing accurate availability and costs of private jets in ‘real-time’.
Just like JetSmarter, StrataJet claims to be changing the way people travel, opening up private aviation by making it more efficient and accessible to a broader set of fliers.
What sets Stratajet apart is that booking platform. While buying a seat on a commercial flight at the click of a button has been possible for many years, it hasn’t been on a private jet. Jonathan Nicol founded Stratajet with the mission to bring the industry online. Five years later, the result is a sophisticated technology platform that has streamlined the old-fashioned booking process of phoning a broker.
Stratajet says it is the only platform that has taken the booking process completely online and made it possible for customers to search for, compare and book flights in seconds. It is the only system that can provide accurate costs and availability of private jets in ‘real-time’. These are then instantly bookable on a credit card or via Apple Pay, with no upfront membership fees.
Stratajet’s technology seems to be redefining the private jet passenger, with 32% of Stratajet’s customers being first-time fliers. This instant accessibility to a previously elitist concept is paving the way for a younger generation to gain access to private jet travel.
“It has been a whirlwind year for Stratajet as the company has gone from six people working in a basement developing the platform’s prototype, to launching as a fully operational international business,” Stratajet founder and CEO Jonny Nicol tells P1.
“The company launched across Europe in April this year, then in the United States in September, and has already achieved a US$10million run rate.
“Growth in the platform continues to grow at a rate of 40% month on month, while in the short time since ‘going live’ we have been able to generate an unprecedented five million private jet flight quotes. This proves how effective our system can be at giving a wider range of travellers access to the private jet industry.”
Nicol says he has more than 7,000 registered customers and that they are attracted by the accessibility and simplicity. All customers have to do is enter where they’re going from and to, date and time of travel and number of passengers and the system will provide all the available aircraft for that flight.
But the important thing is that the aircraft and costs displayed for any flight search are accurate and don’t have to be verified with the aircraft’s operators – they’re instantly bookable.
“What the customer doesn’t see is the incredibly sophisticated technology working away in the background,” says Nicol.
“We’ve essentially brought the whole private jet industry online – and that was no mean feat – but, in the modern world, where everything is available at people’s fingertips, we have provided that much-needed immediacy to the traditionally old-fashioned private jet industry. Stratajet’s technology has completely streamlined the private jet booking process.
“The technology that allows customers to book a private jet in two minutes is what makes us unique but, most importantly, it’s the ability to do so completely online, without any manual involvement from the operator of the aircraft.”
The platform’s proprietary search engine took five years to build because of the inordinate amounts of data to gather and the complexity of the programme needed to search through this data every time a customer conducts a flight search.
To give you an idea of how complex the software is, it can search through over 500,000 lines of data and perform upwards of 2.5 million calculations in 12 seconds to provide all the available aircraft and costs for any flight search.
What’s more, Stratajet says it is the only provider that is able to factor empty legs into flight searches and adapt these where necessary to suit the passengers’ requirements.
So who is using Stratajet and what missions are they flying?
“The type of travel and the range of bookings both vary hugely – across business and leisure – so while the average booking via the Stratajet App is of around US$7,500, the largest booking we have taken was around US$350,000,” says Nicol.
“London, Paris and Barcelona are popular destinations in Europe but customers are also taking advantage of being able to fly in and out of every single operational runway in Europe and the United States and using the efficiency of private jet travel to land closer to their final destination.
“Importantly a high percentage of our passengers are return customers, who might have taken advantage of an adaptive empty leg on their first trip – and the cheaper cost associated with this – but often pay the full price the next time they fly because they realise Stratajet is the most time-efficient and cost-efficient means of booking a private jet.”
One of the reasons people are drawn to these apps are the potential cost savings, and Stratajet says it can beat the cost of business class commercial flights.
Examples of such comparisons include a flight from Nice to London that cost under £876 per person on a King Air, compared to typical commercial business class fares of £750-£900.
Another real-world example involved flying four people from Milan to Chambery on a Citation CJ3 with Stratajet at £950 per person, and five people from Frankfurt to Marseille at £815 per person on a Citation Bravo. Competitive pricing, for sure.
“Bookings vary across the whole range of aircraft,” says Nicol, “but the Citation Cessna Mustang, a very light aircraft (VLJ) with a six-passenger capacity and range of just over 1,300 miles is perfect for short-haul trips for groups of friends travelling together. As such, the Mustang is very popular, being used in approximately 20% of bookings.
“At the more extravagant end, Stratajet’s client services team works very closely with operators to ensure any special requests from clients are fulfilled. On a trip to Australia from the EU, we diverted an aircraft via Japan to get takeaway from Nobu. Other extravagant requests have included an aircraft with two bedrooms on board, delivering McDonalds to an aircraft for six passengers, and transporting a rescue Great Dane to its new home.”
Ultimately, Nicol belives that apps like Stratajet are good news for the wider industry, especially because they are attracting new and younger customers.
“The industry has been in decline in recent years due to its inability to attract new audiences and the fact that 32% of our customers are first-time private jet fliers is contrast to the industry norm of less than one percent,” says Nicol. “This is because operators don’t have to qualify quotes. The platform generates accurate flight costs on the operators’ behalf, with no manual input from the operators.
“From an industry perspective we are helping to eliminate inefficiency and wastage and this is helping improve the margins of aircraft operators, in turn lowering the costs for passengers.”
It has been a whirlwind year for the company, but Nicol says they will maintain their focus on growing the platform in Europe and US and aim to add a French and German language website to the service offering early in the new year.
Stratajet will also continue to grow the network by bringing on additional operators and exploring new markets in 2017, namely the Middle East and Far East, providing global coverage.
“We are more focused on driving Stratajet forward in 2017 than concerned by things that may negatively impact the business,” says Nicol confidently.
“Because we have a unique proposition across the entire private jet industry, and any other provider would have a mountain to climb in order to build the same platform, we are in a strong position to build on the initial successes of 2016.
“We will continue our mission to open up private jets to the mainstream traveller.”
Bet On Victor
Clive Jackson, CEO and founder of private jet marketplace Victor, is equally bullish about prospects for this other unicorn in waiting.
“Victor has continued to grow quickly in the UK, Europe and North America since launch,” says Jackson. “Our 18th position in Deloitte’s recent UK Tech Fast 50 (for Britain’s fastest growing private tech companies) reflects 946% growth over the last four years, and ensured we won the ‘Internet’ category above respected travel brands such as Skyscanner and Secret Escapes.
“We have over 70,000 members registered with our omni-channel marketplace, allowing around-the-clock bookings across app, website and our ‘hi touch’ international customer services team. In 2016, 15% of our new members were first-time private fliers, which shows that demand for flexible private spot charter is continuing to swell and attract people from other types of air travel.”
Transparency is a word rarely brokered in business circles, but it is something that Jackson has championed with Victor.
“Victor guarantees 100% transparency – we were the first company to properly disclose aircraft specifics, give complete pricing breakdowns and allow the effective side-by-side comparison of thousands of jets at 40,000 airports worldwide via over 200 trusted partner operators.
“Our mix of high-end customer service and innovative technology allows us to support our customers in the best possible way at the best possible time. There is much focus in our sector on the rise of technology but, for Victor, it has to work for our end users – it has to enhance the ‘surprise and delight’ travel experience we are delivering to them. We have, I think, demonstrated this balance consistently and so we go from strength to strength.”
So what is the Victor USP in an increasingly crowded and competitive arena?
“I would also stress that Victor’s marketplace is free to use and free to choose,” says Jackson. “Unlike many of the ‘membership’ schemes in our sector, where customers face significant upfront fees on the promise of receiving something great in the future, Victor allows the flier to travel when, where, how and with whom they wish. Certain membership schemes only offer a limited range of fixed, pre-scheduled shuttle routes – routes that you share with other passengers and have little flexibility around.”
A typical flight with Victor might range between 600 and 800nm. In turn, popular aircraft chartered last year included VLJs such as the Citation Mustang and Phenom 100. However, Victor charters can be as much as 6,000nm, ranging across many territories, and plane types.
Routes chartered by Victor members are often those not served frequently by the commercial airlines – for example, Aberdeen to Palma; Liverpool to Nice; even Ibiza to Key West, Florida. Victor’s on-demand approach to charter allows for flexibility of departure and destination – business or leisure.
Popular leisure bookings (one way) would include London Luton to Ibiza on a CJ2 for £8,000; London Biggin Hill to Palma on a Hawker 750 for £9,000; or La Mole (Saint-Tropez) to Zurich on a Phenom 100 for £5,000. Popular business bookings (one way) include Geneva to Paris on a CJ3 for £4,000; Liverpool to Nice on a Citation Mustang for £6,000; or London Luton to Teterboro (New York) on the Gulfstream GIV from £55,000.
“Our app puts the customer firmly in control – not just in terms of the whole process of sourcing and comparing charter quotes quickly and easily, but where crucial day-to-day flight management and passenger manifests are concerned too,” says Jackson.
“There is so much inefficiency in our industry, so technology can play a major part in reducing it and, in turn, taking costs out for both the charter provider and flier.
“After an expansive, hugely successful 2016, passing the US$100m barrier for charter bookings this year would be fantastic. The team and I are also focused on getting even smarter in 2017 with how we procure and seamlessly integrate with operators.”
Clearly Victor are doing something right. In 2016, repeat business made up 70% of all flights. Long-range bookings more than tripled, and the variety of aircraft being chartered – ultra-light through to VIP airliner – accelerated to 68. Destinations such as Ibiza, Mykonos, Barbados and New York topped the popularity stakes, whilst everything from the Monaco Grand Prix and Ryder Cup generated short-term spikes of charter activity.
There is little denying companies like Victor, Stratajet and JetSmarter are good news for business aviation. More people flying can only be a good thing, and while some brokers may be squeezed, the benefits for a bruised industry can only be welcomed.