In an era when the Internet is eliminating many forms of privacy, the charter industry remains somewhat opaque, leaving charter clients without essential information about their trips, in the opinions of James Chitty and Nicolos Bozzo, founders of PlaneClear, based in Long Island City, N.Y.
Chitty, PlaneClear’s president, worked for Liberty Jet and vice president Bozzo for Gama Aviation before they founded PlaneClear in 2008, “to bring unprecedented transparency to the private charter market,” according to a PlaneClear statement.
“We put this together to bridge those different vehicles,” said Chitty, referring to the two primary entities involved in most charter trips, brokers and the operator (charter certificate holder). “There was a total lack of transparency,” he said. Sometimes a client would book a trip and an airplane wouldn’t show up, and the client wouldn’t know what to do and in some cases not even which operator was supposed to be conducting the flight.
PlaneClear acts as a broker, but with added features, primarily full disclosure of all aspects of the trip. “We provide total transparency,” Chitty said.
To join the PlaneClear service, customers pay an annual retainer then 2.5 percent per trip on top of the cost to PlaneClear (which is also disclosed). There is also a non-retainer membership option. Customers pay for each charter flight themselves, directly to the operator and separately from the PlaneClear fee.
Anyone can, of course, go directly to the charter operator and arrange trips without the help of brokers, but the majority of charter trips are broker-arranged. What PlaneClear offers, Chitty explained, is the ability not only to get help arranging trips but also customized criteria for each member.
When a new client joins, PlaneClear builds a client profile, which includes any details that are important such as allergies, catering standards, rental-car preferences, minimum pilot experience, third-party audits, insurance coverage, aircraft age and equipment, no fuel surcharges or repositioning fees, and so on. One client, for example, wants pilots with a minimum of 10,000 flight hours and aircraft that are no more than 10 years old. “This takes the 4,000 aircraft available down to 150 in the blink of an eye,” said Chitty. “We make sure those criteria are met.”
PlaneClear will source as many quotes as the client wants, and its buying power helps keep cost to a minimum and justifies the 2.5-percent fee. “We like to think we have some buying power and hope we’re getting a pretty aggressive deal in some situations,” he said. “Our only allegiance is [to the client], not the operator. We’re looking out for their efficiency interests.” The fee is also part of PlaneClear’s transparency policy, which includes revealing every detail of the charter operator’s quote. “Transparency seems like something that is lacking in many industries,” he said. “People are afraid of giving access. The small fees we collect are worth it.”
After each trip, PlaneClear follows up with the client to go over any problems and make sure they are addressed. “This is an ever-growing process,” said Chitty. “[For example], this tail number doesn’t work for this client.” If a seatback doesn’t recline or other problem, PlaneClear will contact the operator to make sure it is fixed.
Chitty doesn’t worry about customers making direct contact with operators. “We’re putting our faith in the operators by putting them in contact with our members,” he said. “It’s a high-touch business. We do a good enough job that our clients don’t have a need to go outside our program. If everyone did everything transparently there wouldn’t be any need [for this kind of service].”
But even if all charter transactions were completely disclosed to all parties, he explained, PlaneClear provides a service because it is focused on its customers, whereas charter operators’ “loyalty is to their fleet. The majority of [charter operators] make money on management fees. We’re not married to a specific fleet; our allegiance is to the client.”
PlaneClear recently became a Wyvern-authorized broker. As an authorized broker, PlaneClear can provide clients a Pass report, which details the charter operator’s compliance with the Wyvern safety audit standard.