Global charter operator VistaJet saw Middle East flights up 38 percent last year, as the Malta-based company announced the opening of its worldwide umbrella group, Vista Global Holding, in Dubai, and the expansion of its charter office there, which also serves as a platform for business in India and Africa.
“The Middle East is a very important hub for us for Asia, Europe, and Africa,” Ian Moore, chief commercial officer, told AIN. “We are not a single-region operator.
“In terms of Middle East economic softness, we tend to transport people through the region and saw a 38 percent increase in 2018 on our business [there]. The number of passengers was up 24 percent. That gives a good idea of key growth in the region and the importance of the Middle East.”
VistaJet operates a fleet of 72 all-Bombardier aircraft and one helicopter, with an average age of under three years. Moore "believes there is more demand in the region,” he said. “We have an increased focus on India and Africa.”
The VistaJet Dubai team now comprises three Arabic speakers and three Anglophones. “The focus is on developing the region further, and this is best done by people inside the region. In the past, we mostly did the business from our Europe office, but we feel this is an opportunity for us to put more people on the ground, spending time with brokers and direct customers.”
He said most customers hired the aircraft solely for themselves. Although VistaJet’s flagship Global 6000 can seat up to 14 passengers, flights in the Middle East usually involve two to five passengers.
“Passengers can buy as many hours per year as they need and call upon us with as little as 24 hours’ notice,” he said. “We don’t have shared seats or shared payments, and instead, the principal 'owns' the aircraft for each particular flight and is accompanied by the people they want in their party.”
VistaJet is in the initial stages of developing its East Africa presence, giving the region what it regards as Middle East status. “A lot of our clients are now going to, and coming from, that region,” he said.
“We feel that if we are doing flights to and from East Africa, there must be wealth being created. There is an effort into that part of the world, but it is a little early to say it’s a success. Our firm belief is that we can explore it through our Middle East office. The metrics are based on commodities, and we want to see where they trend in the next 12 to 18 months…We need to be able to connect markets.
“We have done quite well in the Indian market, which is probably one of the most well-traveled. There’s the importance of the Middle East for the India, Europe, and Asia markets, and the introduction of Vista Global at the Dubai International Financial Center (DIFC). That really underpins the importance of this region.”
Last year, Vista Global opened its worldwide headquarters at the DIFC, bringing four entities, VistaJet; Vista Lease, due to begin operations this year; recently acquired XOJet; and solutions provider TechX Aviation Analytics, under one roof, further demonstrating its commitment to the region.
“We are very happy with the location we set up recently,” Moore said. “Dubai was the obvious place for us to do that. Frankly, the speed at which we have got up and running in the UAE, and particularly Dubai, has been amazing, firstly, as a private aviation company, and, secondly, as a global company.”
Vista Global is understood to have placed a large order for Global 7500s, the majority of which will go through leasing arm, Vista Lease. There are also a large number of aircraft available for sole use which underscores the commitment to asset-light exposure. VistaJet and XOJet together own 116 aircraft.
“The unique thing about Vista Global is that we don’t need to turn anyone down. We can ask what the customers want and direct them to the right company offering,” he said.
Moore said Middle East operators who want to own an aircraft but never charter it, are not unique to the Middle East. “You have similar European, American, African, and Asian operators,” he said.
“What we are seeing more and more is a younger generation of people [willing to make their aircraft available for charter]. More and more people are pursuing the revolutionary step above ownership. We have always seen a charter market in the Middle East. It’s a different market, and there is an increasing amount of people who see [that] buying an aircraft isn’t the best financial solution for them.”
Moore said VistaJet customers’ average age is 50. “[They] are a younger-minded generation looking at the worldwide trend of shared ownership, such as Airbnb, because of the hassle of owning your own aircraft. [Owned] aircraft take more time and effort than the time they are saving.
“We really want to be talking to all corners of the world, and Dubai is one of its most important hubs. Before, we had many hubs in Europe and the U.S. and were very focused on the West. Locating in Dubai tells the world we are open for business in every market. We are not a European or North American business, but a global business. Presence and times zones help us share the message with the rest of the world.”