Photo: Fotolia
Photo: Fotolia

Who’s on board?

Who are you, Mr. and Ms. Charter Consumer? That’s a question that industry insiders are increasingly asking.

“I would love to see better demographics,” says Mike Moore, a vice president at charter operator Meridian, who bemoans the dearth of data to aid his marketing efforts.

Luis Barros, CEO of broker/operator Leviate, echoes Moore’s comment. “Who do you target?” says Barros. “White males over 45. But if it’s changed in the last 10 years to more women, younger entrepreneurs, and people in their early 30s, how would you know?”

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Whether you’re weighing the relative merits of charter, a jet card, a membership program, or a share in a fractionally owned aircraft, we’re here to help.

You wouldn’t.

“We ask those questions a lot [about demographic data] in talking with large brokers and charter operators,” says Joe Moeggenberg, president and CEO of bizav data service Argus International. “Frankly, no one wants to share that type of information.”

Here’s the issue with the lack of data: a generational shift in charter passenger demographics may be occurring; and if it is, that portends major changes for your future charter experience—likely almost all for the good. We’ll get to the potential benefits, but first, let’s see what we do and don’t know about who’s riding in chartered business jets, because that affects the industry’s ability to respond to your needs and desires—even if you don’t use charter today.

“We know the demographics of folks chartering aircraft are getting younger,” Moeggenberg says, “but we can’t pinpoint” the average age.

Nor do we know the gender ratio, average frequency of charter use, or average net worth of charter passengers. The reams of data covering virtually every other consumer category are unavailable to the marketers and media planners who want to explain why their charter service is best for you, or to change it so it will be.

A few providers are now opening their data banks, however. U.K.-based online charter broker PrivateFly began releasing semiannual Private Jet Charter Trends reports in 2016, based on inquiries and bookings through its site and Internet search data. The reports have found the average charter passenger age fluctuating between 39 and 41—well below the standard industry estimate of 50-plus—which may reflect younger clientele more at ease with digital technology and without an established charter source. The reports have also found that adult males comprise 63 to 73 percent of passengers and children under age 16 represent 12 to 14 percent. Pets were onboard 2 to 6 percent of flights over the span of the surveys.

In 2018, high-end provider VistaJet teamed with private wealth data specialist Wealth-X to produce the Jet Traveler Report, a profile of ultra-high-net-worth individuals (UHNWIs) and their charter patterns. The report says the average principal flier is 61—the same age as the average jet-card-program member, according to the research. The average age of VistaJet passengers in 2017 declined from 40 to 38, and 90 percent of them were male. About one in four flights carried children age 16 or younger. As for any insights on UHNWI behaviors and preferences, the VistaJet report says customers expect “above all, ease of access through bespoke technology.”

Meanwhile, many charter professionals are sure a shift is coming over the next five years, driven by that very ease of access customers are coming to expect and generational changes in attitudes (more interest in experiences than possessions; in sync with the shared-economy ethos) that spill over into charter consumption. More than 70 percent of aviation professionals believe that whatever the average age is today, it will drop below 50 by 2023, with 59 percent predicting the age will be between 40 and 50, and 11 percent thinking it will be younger than 40. That’s according to a 2018 survey commissioned by Revolution.aero, a bizav platform championing disruptive access solutions that seek to “democratize” private aviation. (Twenty percent of the 115 survey participants predict the average age will still be over 50 in 2023.) But this is based on intuition.

“There really is a shortage of data about [charter] buyers—who they are and what they want,” agrees Alasdair Whyte, cofounder of Revolution.aero and Corporate Jet Investor.

But intuitive or not, the assumptions appear realistic, at least for the long term. Millennials in Europe, for example, have a far more positive attitude toward business aviation than Continentals have traditionally displayed. Within this cohort, 59 percent believe new forms of private air transport will drastically change their lives, according to a European Business Aviation Association report, How Millennials See the Future of Business Aviation, released in 2018. Moreover, 62 percent of the generation’s men and 58 percent of its women reported they are willing to travel on shared charter flights.

But how to get from here to there efficiently by chartered aircraft? In the last two decades, we’ve seen access options expand from either ownership or charter to fractionals, and more recently jet cards, membership programs, empty-leg bookings, and per-seat charter. All have been introduced without the benefit of detailed consumer information, and that could account for the relatively little impact they’ve had in the overall travel marketplace. Getting that demographic data is vital to fine-tuning access models and letting the right consumers know about them. So while we move toward a shared economy, perhaps the industry will see fit to share more information about you, accelerating the expansion of these win-win charter solutions.

Revolution.aero staged its first gathering in San Francisco in October, the two-day conference drawing some 300 would-be disruptors from the worlds of technology and aviation, with keynote presentations from figures including Wheels Up’s Kenny Dichter and JetSmarter’s Sergey Petrossov, founders and CEOs of their respective membership enterprises. Presenters limned a future with a wealth of access options ranging from autonomous urban transport to supersonic flight, all available at one’s fingertips—literally.

“People wanted high-touch [relationships with charter providers],” Whyte says, as if the current generation of customers has already disappeared. “I think the younger generation wants to click.”    

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