Strength in Partnership
Aircraft Management and Charter teams support one another – and many others
Following up on the emergency charter repatriation flight we reported last week, we “teamed up” with David Dalpiaz, VP Flight Services, and Leslie Cheshier, VP Owner and Charter Services, to learn more about how COVID-19 is affecting their respective businesses in the U.S. and how they’re coping with the challenges.
Leslie, with grounded airlines and so many travel restrictions, many imagine there would be an increase in demand for charter flights. Has that been your experience?
Yes and no. Initially we experienced an increase in interest due to requests for repatriation and clients eager to return home. We were quoting at a much higher rate, but our actual booking rate was much lower. Currently, we're getting far more customer requests than normal, often from new clients we haven't worked with in the past, but have noticed that each request represents much more complexity, particularly for international flights. Some of these new clients are specifically looking for a stable company with high safety standards; "one that will be around for the long term, and not just someone with a home computer and a fancy website."
“We have extensive knowledge regarding aviation rules, regulations and safety procedures, but the challenge is the current COVID-19 crisis protocols keep changing”
We have extensive knowledge regarding aviation rules, regulations and safety procedures, but the challenge is the current COVID-19 crisis protocols keep changing. As charter flight requests are now invariably last minute, we often work frantically to finalize a flight only to have it cancelled by a new ban or protocol. There were some days in the U.S. in which city, county and state protocols were changing every hour. Luckily, collaborating with the Safety and International Operation teams allowed us to keep up!
What kind of flight requests are you receiving?
When normal retail flights first came to a sudden halt, there were many repatriation flight requests. We're still getting these, but there's increasing interest in cargo flights.
Are Cargo flights not equally difficult to arrange?
They can be, but we are very fortunate to have recently received FAA authorization for "Cargo Only" operations on our Part 135 Certificates, which allows us to provide additional emergency medical transport for personnel and supplies.
Just last week we were even able to fly a young man injured in a mining accident in Portugal back to the U.S. using our K-Loader, which is normally used for cargo.
What about Flight Services, David? Have you also noted an increase in requests from clients you've never worked with?
Yes, our sales team has actually received a number of calls about new opportunities. It seems many smaller companies are struggling to meet customer demand, while some have closed or furloughed a significant number of their employees. This is making a lot of owners and operators nervous, and they're beginning to look for a more stable partner. Some owners are even refusing to approve charter requests because of fear of COVID-19 exposure to their aircraft or flight crew. These new opportunities have created strategic growth that will afford Jet Aviation the opportunity to play a part in accelerating the resurgence of our global economy.
We are being very careful how we respond to these requests, as we certainly do not want to be perceived as a company that targets other companies in distress. Where possible, we try to partner with these companies and simply help them provide their customers the services they need, even if it's just parking at one of our US network FBOs.
By providing continued service and keeping all bases operational, we demonstrate our ability to manage from a position of strength. Customers greatly appreciate our stability and stance on safety protocols.
What services do you provide for such trips?
We manage some 170 aircraft in the US, many of which have very limited operations scheduled in April. For each managed aircraft and every charter flight, we ensure the aircraft is properly cleaned before anyone touches it. We track all passengers and crew movements back 14 days before each trip. We recently published a COVID manual that was distributed to all pilots, cabin attendants and maintenance personnel, which outlines the protocols to follow upon return to flight activity. Additionally, to help mitigate customers' costs, the Account Director team is also going through all fixed contracts and services procured on behalf of our customers to help manage the financial impacts of COVID for every Customer.
For both charter and managed clients, having an internal International Operations team has been essential since the COVID outbreak. They know the flight rules, the aviation restrictions and the safety procedures, and they have been instrumental to helping us arrange trips.
“For both charter and managed clients, having an internal International Operations team has been essential since the COVID outbreak. They have been instrumental to helping us arrange trips”
So, your two businesses are quite interdependent?
We absolutely support each other. Managed aircraft are often chartered; charter aircraft need to be managed. A main difference is that managed customers typically pay service fees for a fixed period, while the charter and staffing businesses are very transactional. In this sense, at least at the moment, Aircraft Management is leveraging the other companies. Although there are differences between our businesses, our safety standards are consistent.
How has working from home affected the team? How many are working remotely?
Excluding crews, we have 180 employees, nearly all of whom are working from home now. Only 15-18 employees are going to work regularly across the company, primarily to do essential maintenance.
The transition to remote work has been relatively seamless. The efforts of our teams are nothing short of inspirational. Many departments have undertaken projects to better our processes and deliver a streamlined service to our Customers. We have also initiated virtual training and live learning for our new hires (i.e. necessary pilots, cabin attendants and maintenance personnel), thus saving travel costs while reducing the spread of COVID.
I take it the teams are managing well, then?
In terms of home-office, yes, but the teams are anxious to get back to work. In Aircraft Management, we have gone from some 90 daily flights to some 10 flights. Our maintenance teams are quite busy ensuring our Customers' aircraft are maintained to the highest standards and performing inspections to best prepare for resumed flight activity. Meanwhile our pilots and cabin attendants are staying current and completing advancing training requirements. Our overhead staff are actively engaged in projects and the changes that COVID has introduced into our world. Every Customer has informed us they are eager to get back to flying — and so are we.
A number of charter clients are also eager to get back to business again and many have booked flights in hopes that restrictions will start easing.
What's your big take-away from this COVID experience thus far?
It's difficult to look at any aspect of this situation in positive terms, but we as a company are more fortunate than many others, and we should all be thankful for being a part of the Jet Aviation family.
First, the depth of our internal talent is impressive. We're both incredibly proud of our teams and we hear this sentiment repeated by many leaders at Jet. Just look at what our IT teams have been able to deploy to facilitate remote working.
“We're both incredibly proud of our teams and we hear this sentiment repeated by many leaders at Jet”
Clients are clearly placing more value on stability and continual access to services. Between our global network, longevity and scope of services, coupled with the financial backing of General Dynamics, we are incredibly strong in this regard.
Lastly, having created so many industry standards, we are the benchmark for safety and quality. Again, look at how our operations have managed to contain the virus and keep us all safe. We have some 50 facilities around the world, all of which are still operating to serve our customers. In the world of aviation during a global pandemic, that is truly an achievement of which we should all be very proud.
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