EBACE Convention News

A New Vista for Charter

 - May 18, 2019, 7:00 AM

VistaJet (Booth B71, SD108) arrives at EBACE 2019 following a transformative year. The past 12 months have taken the global charter company from a standalone operator to a crown jewel of an aviation conglomerate, with assets spanning a spectrum of lift models, from discount per-seat charter (JetSmarter) and mid-price service (XOJet) to high-end guaranteed access and lease programs (VistaJet, Vista Lease).

The change began with the launch of Dubai-based Vista Global Holding (VGH) last August, a vehicle to “industrialize and consolidate the fragmented business aviation market across the entire range of flight service offerings,” said VistaJet (and now VGH) founder and chairman Thomas Flohr, proclaiming the group “my vision ever since I started VistaJet in 2004.”

Longtime financial backer Rhône Group invested an additional $200 million to fund future acquisitions, an undisclosed amount of it spent the following month for the XOJet acquisition, bringing the third-largest air charter operator in the U.S. (by flight hours) under the VGH umbrella. (XOJet’s owned fleet of 43 Bombardier Challenger 300s and Cessna Citation Xs had flown 46,739 hours the prior 12 months, according to Argus International.)

“Our mission is to provide customer-centric solutions for every segment of business aviation, and [the XOJet purchase] is a major step in that direction,” Flohr said at the time.

XOJet, which disrupted the transcontinental charter space last decade with point-to-point pricing, offers on-demand charter in addition to monthly subscription plans. It will serve as VGH’s “value air charter proposition,” said group COO Ian Moore. “It will appeal to those who fly less than 50 hours a year and don’t mind riding in older super-midsize jets.”

VGH also plans to expand XOJet into a global operator.

This year, VGH launched its planned Vista Lease program, staffed by Flohr and his team from a former aircraft leasing and trading business, powered by VGH orders for 30 of Bombardier’s flagship Global 7500s, which claims the title as the world’s largest purpose-built business jet. Vista Lease also has the capitalization to act as principal buyer in the preowned segment and offer inventory for lease.

Flohr told AIN he is “super excited” about the coming 7500s and “very proud to have the largest order book” of early deliveries. “This airplane is a game changer in cabin size—a true four-zone cabin,” he said. “It will change the experience for top-end customers.”

Some 7500s will join VistaJet's all-Bombardier fleet of Global 5000/6000 and Challenger 650 jets, but “a significant number will be going with Vista Lease,” Flohr said, adding, “They won’t all be silver with a red stripe,” an allusion to VistaJet’s signature livery. VGH “will offer dedicated solutions” for lease customers, he said, structuring flexible customized arrangements around individual needs.

The first 7500 is slated for delivery in September and will embark on a world tour to introduce it to customers and prospects. In 2020, about six months later, high-volume deliveries commence, continuing over about 42 to 48 months.

VGH has also been growing the TechX division announced at the group’s launch, tasked with developing digital tools to synergize VGH operations and assets. Some 50 technology specialists are working to create end-to-end services, enabling third-party companies to find customers, manage charter bookings, track flights, and plan trips directly with operators on a single platform.

VGH technology ambitions received a major long-term boost with April’s acquisition of per-seat charter broker and digital booking app pioneer JetSmarter. The final tentpole supporting VGH’s long-term growth strategy, JetSmarter, headquartered on the U.S. East Coast, brings both an entry-level charter offering and highly regarded proprietary technology to the fold.

“The digital platform of JetSmarter will make its way throughout the entire organization,” Flohr said. “Take Vista Lease as an example. We can lease a dedicated airplane to a client and at the same time, we can guarantee 50 to 100 hours of on-demand revenue because we have the distribution platform. This is very, very powerful for the consumer. And that's where all of these products play very, very well together. The digital platform will help the VistaJet side and vice versa.”

With JetSmarter onboard, VGH has all the “key ingredients” for growth and plans no more strategic acquisitions, Flohr said. But he added, “If we see in years to come a component of this industry [worth acquiring], we will stay very open-minded.”

As for business at VistaJet, after a slow January, activity picked up and accelerated all the way into April, Flohr reported, before he reflected on the bigger story the company is highlighting in Geneva. “If you think who we were three years ago, even two years ago, and what’s happening now, it’s a complete transformation,” he said.