North Carolina-based charter operator, flyExclusive, is emerging from lockdown poised and ready for growth having “reinvented itself” in the face of Covid-19, executive vice president, Allen Thomas, told Corporate Jet Investor.
FlyExclusive did not furlough, layoff or cut the salary of one employee as a result of Covid-19. The operator, founded in April 2015 with three jets and six employees, now employs 180 pilots and 400 employees and, according to its vice president, has in fact grown during recent months. It has also launched a new membership programme, Jet Club, and provided jet card holders of JetSuite, which declared bankruptcy due to the Covid-19 pandemic, a “place to land” by launching the JetSuite card member rescue plan.
“It’s been a time of reinvention,” Thomas told Corporate Jet Investor, “I think that would be the best way to categorise it; as a company and as an industry to think about how we view private flying. It’s such a fast-paced industry, having what amounted to a pause, created a time for introspection. So, we have created what we call flyExclusive 2.0.”
Thomas likens charter operating to spinning plates– with a floating fleet revolving around the country you will never see all your aircraft in one place. “But for a couple of months it was quite an awesome and scary sight looking out the window seeing that many tails.”
By charting developments in Europe and China, flyExclusive developed their approach to Covid-19. Thomas said the company has adjusted its operations to enable it to continue during the pandemic and has experienced “massive growth in the past three weeks”.
“Going into this we were more of a B2B [business-to-business] company, we were focused more on working with charter brokers. Now we have made a push towards membership with the launch of Jet Club and additions to the fleet [Light jet division and flyExclusive International]. To widen our base and attract a significant number of direct partners and direct clients.” said Thomas, “We have continued investment across the board.”
Restrictions on travel, as a result of Covid-19, are nothing new in the new normal. However, navigating the ever-changing plethora of state, national and international travel restrictions as a Part 135 operator has proven to be time consuming. Thomas told Corporate Jet Investor: “Understanding the regulatory environment in the United States was significantly complicated as each state has different approaches. So, we closely monitor on a state-by-state basis in terms of our access, keeping our clients safe, giving out information where possible and communicating closely on the congressional level. It’s a busy time for us.”
FlyExclusive, reflecting a post-Covid-19 trend, has seen an influx of first-time customers which has assisted it in strengthening its position, according to Thomas. The company does not foresee a second shutdown in the US, especially in business aviation and expects the trajectory of growth it has experienced in recent weeks to continue for the remainder of 2020.
While growth is positive, the crash from 2019 levels has been difficult to recoup, Thomas believes it will be some time before those levels return industry wide, as there are too many uncontrollable factors, but he has seen some positive signs. “During this whole process every week felt like a year. It’s hard to speak for [business] aviation as a whole but our numbers currently are well in excess of 80% of where we were prior [to Covid-19] and, in fact, we are starting to see numbers that exceed what we were seeing before.”
“[For the industry] I think it’s going to be a slow growth until people feel more comfortable about vaccines, protections that may be in place to allow things to get back to normal. But we are still seeing a lot of travel and we think there was some pent-up demand and elasticity [as a result of lockdown] that we are benefitting from now.”