In the past five years, San Diego area Part 135 operator Schubach Aviation has seen the average age of its charter clients move lower, from 62 in 2015 to 56 at the end of 2019. “When we really looked at the information, we realized we added more new clients under the age of 40, which prompted us to take a look at the numbers and look at our average age. And sure enough, every year it was slowly going down,” Schubach president and owner Kimberly Herrell told AIN.
This younger clientele wasn’t simply replacing a base of older charter customers, Herrell added. “I wouldn’t say that older clientele are dropping off by any sense,” she explained. “It’s just that more younger travelers are joining the demographic.”
It’s not exactly clear to Herrell why her 29-year-old charter and aircraft management firm based at McClellan-Palomar Airport (CRQ) in Carlsbad, California, is seeing an increase in younger charter clients. It could be that there is a growing group of younger people choosing to fly private because they are wealthier. A Spectrem Group survey noted that, since 2014, the average age of U.S. investors with $25 million or more has dropped by 11 years to 47. “It kind of naturally follows, I think,” Herrell said.
The trend of younger charter clients is also something the founder of one of the country’s biggest charter and private aviation membership companies has noted of late. Wheels Up CEO Kenny Dichter told AIN, “We’ve definitely seen an increased interest, and we’ve seen that translate into business as it relates to a younger group of people chartering or joining the Wheels Up membership.”
Reaching the Younger Market
Whatever is driving the increase in younger fliers, Schubach is trying to capitalize on this trend primarily through social media as well as through client-specific activities it calls Elevated Excursions. “I think the marketing follows the new clients,” Herrell said.
While the increase can be partly attributed to the company’s online presence and its reputation locally, the Elevated Excursions are likely contributing to the attraction from a younger client base, as it ramped up efforts to connect with them through social media channels such as Instagram and Facebook. “We do more experiential marketing now, a little bit higher touch,” she said. “[We] focus more online, connecting through social media and just looking at what do these clients value versus the other clients, trying to connect with them on that level.”
The Elevated Excursions are part of Schubach’s heightened experiential marketing effort. These excursions include a variety of events such as organizing a group charter for clients to fly them to Las Vegas for a day of shopping at the upscale Shops at Crystals or spend a day driving Lamborghinis on the autocross tracks at the members-only Thermal Club in Southern California. Schubach also hosts client events at its facility at CRQ, like a film screening at its hangar last month where clients also were able to meet and hear from the film’s producer. “It’s experiences we create here at the airport as well,” Herrell said.
Those experiential events are not unlike what Wheels Up does for its members, including hosting parties with live entertainment at major events such as the Super Bowl or Art Basel in Miami. Those events attract younger clients as does its lower-priced Connect membership program. Wheels Up’s presence on television, including ESPN College Gameday, or through social media—Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook—helps as well, according to Dichter. So do Wheels Up Ambassadors, athletes such as Seattle Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson, Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, tennis professional Serena Williams and professional golfer Rickie Fowler. It has also partnered with YouTube personalities including Casey Neistat, Roman Atwood, and Jake Paul. All of them are “influencers” through social media for Wheels Up and they aid in gaining the attention of a younger client base, according to Dichter. “We’re looking to market and expose private aviation to folks when they are in their 20s, 30s, and 40s,” he said. “We want them exposed to what private aviation can do for them. So Wheels Up is going after that story in a big way.”