Private jets have been synonymous with the music industry’s superstars for the past 50 years, but with an ever expanding array of aircraft on offer, coupled with the convenience of mobile booking, the market has opened up to a wider clientele.
In the 1950s Frank Sinatra would fly his Rat Pack buddies between Las Vegas and Palm Springs on his own Learjet 23, Elvis Presley had a Convair 880 named after his daughter Lisa Marie and in the 1970s Led Zeppelin pushed it to new levels of luxury aboard a Boeing 720.
Christened The Starship, the aeroplane was furnished with a 30-foot-long couch, a bar with built-in electric organ, and a bedroom complete with shower room.
Headquartered in London and with bases in New York, Santa Barbara and Munich, Victor significantly increased its live music clientele when it acquired Santa Barbara-based YoungJets in 2015, a service dedicated to touring acts.
It has recently worked with Calvin Harris, Ellie Goulding and Kendrick Lamar on a job that involved the use of three jumbo jets to take the three and 750 guests from London, Los Angeles and New York to Puerto Rico and back.
Victor senior vice-president, North America David Young founded YoungJets and oversees much of the music related work at Victor. He says the company’s music clients range from EDM and hip-hop stars to rock’n’roll and pop artistes, with each genre seeing different flight patterns.
Whereas touring bands often fly from city to city, and ageing rock stars tend to return to the same hotel every night, for EDM acts it can mean multiple flights in a single day.
“EDM guys are so in demand in certain markets and they often do two or three performances in 24 hours,” he says. “We have worked with artistes in Europe on the festival circuit where you can wake up in Italy, fly to Croatia for a set then fly straight off to Moscow for a 3am headline slot and end the whole run in Montpellier in France 24 hours later. Jobs like that can require two separate crews on the aircraft.”
Young says that among the more outrageous requests he has dealt with from artistes have been a pop star asking for her pet dog to be flown from the East Coast to West Coast in the US, so she could keep it company while on tour, and a famous hip hop star asking for his tuxedo to be flown out to him, so he could wear it at a state dinner in a foreign country.
“Some stars’ behaviour can seem excessive, but it is part of their lifestyle and if it helps keep the performer happy, which means they can keep going longer and more money can be made. For an ageing rock star not willing to travel on a bus, chartering aircraft can mean a tour not only takes place, but can often be extended as the artiste is not worn-out,” says Young.
Aside from the flights themselves, Young says it is vital to make the booking process as transparent and effortless as possible in order to please demanding clientele. Bookings with Victor can be made via the web and mobile devices.
“A lot of our touring clients love the fact that they can search for and book a jet from their smartphones,” says Young.
“We were providing flights before the internet was invented”
Founded in 2005, Oxygen Aviation has offices in London, Moscow, Geneva, and Madrid. It offers customers a broad selection of aircraft to charter; ranging from a Boeing Airbus A320 able to accommodate 19 passengers, with facilities including a bedroom, office, lounge and dining room, to the rather more petit Citation Mustang that can carry four.
Director David Macdonald is a veteran of the private aviation business, with 30 years experience. He says it is the combined experience of the company’s three directors that sets it apart.
“Collectively we have more than 60 years experience in the business,” says Macdonald. “We were providing flights before the internet was invented. These days anyone can create a website and say they are an expert, the barrier to entry is very low. We are thriving because we benefit from a lot of referrals and recommendations based on the quality of our service.”
Oxygen’s music industry clients have increased significantly in recent years and, on the back of a lot of work with EDM acts and DJs, the company is picking up more touring acts.
“There are a lot of last-minute flights transporting DJ clients from gig to gig,” says Macdonald. “They are always at the weekend and always very late at night, so that does present challenges.”
Despite the clientele often being high net worth individuals and used to a luxurious lifestyle, Macdonald has found that music industry clients are not as demanding as the old rock’n’roll cliche might suggest.
“People rarely demand weird and wonderful things, it is usually just a certain brand of beer or wine. Most music clients simply see it as a business tool; they are not hiring a jet to have a party – they simply want to go from A to B,” says Macdonald.
Headquartered in Brisbane Australia, AVMIN is owned by the Flight Centre Travel Group and can provide anything from helicopters and corporate jets to airliners, with around 25 per cent of its business music industry-related.
Among artistes it has worked with are Coldplay, One Direction, Foo Fighters, Green Day and Santana.
AVMIN MD Paul O’Brien has a decade’s experience in the industry and notes the private aviation sector has seen huge change in recent years.
“We have a lot more bands looking at charters as the preferred travel choice during busy tours in order to meet all their commitments, aside from the gigs,” he says. “Having aircraft of various different sizes available allows for better pricing and convenience.”
One of the latest developments at the company is the launch of Jetbidders, a proprietary online technology that is currently being rolled-out in Australia and Asia.
“Through a simple online tool our clients can gain direct access to thousands of safety-approved aircraft in real time,” says O’Brien.
As a charter logistics management business, O’Brien says AVMIN works with operators around the world to provide its clients with the choice of “any aircraft, anywhere in the world”.
When it comes to challenging jobs, O’Brien says one of the most memorable was converting the top deck of a 747 into a club with a DJ and mini dance floor. “The sky is truly the limit. The client gets what they want in our industry,” he says.
Despite the perceived luxury associated with private air travel, O’Brien says chartering a jet really can be a cost effective option.
“A lot of our music tour charters allow the talent to fly out straight after the gig, saving time and money and allowing for additional commitments to be met at the next port of call,” he says.
“Wake up in Italy, fly to Croatia for a set, then fly straight to Moscow for a 3am headline slot and end the run in Montpellier 24 hours later”
With headquarters in Malta and offices in the UK and US, Air X Charter has a fleet of 17 aircraft that range from an Airbus A340, with 100 business class seats, to a Cessna Citation X offering luxury transport for 10.
“Our Airbus is the only one in the world operating exclusively for business charter and it’s the most popular option for worldwide music, sports and royal flights,” says client relations manager Vanessa White.
Around 10 per cent of the company’s business is music industry related at the moment.
“We endeavour to personalise the flight experience as much as possible, be it a penchant for Japanese cuisine, a fine bottle of wine or simply ensuring we have your favourite movie on board,” says White. “When it comes to demands, music artistes tend to have a lot of them; from demanding the cabin be set to a specific temperature to wanting all the brown M&Ms removed from the candy bowl.”
Aside from an increase in the variety of locations requested by touring acts, with new territories opening up all the time, the other major trend that White has seen is a fall in the number of people purchasing their own private jet.
“It simply is not cost effective,” says White. “Comparative to driving a brand new car out of the garage, a jet depreciates in exactly the same way, but faster and with greater financial consequence.”
She says the industry has also been affected by a transformation of the booking process. “People are increasingly using the internet and there has been a shift from going through a broker to going on some open platforms that offer private jet estimates, actual price or even calling the operators directly,” says White.
Founded in 1990 by Air Charter Service (ACS) chairman Chris Leach from the basement of his home in Kingston-Upon-Thames in the UK, ACS has grown to become one of the world’s leading air charter service providers.
The business now boasts offices throughout North America, South America, Europe, Africa, Middle East and Asia; with its worldwide staff of more than 400 arranging over 12,000 charters per year.
ACS Group commercial jet sales director Matthew Purton says the company has seen 20 per cent growth in flights this year. He believes that one of the major advantages the company has is its global presence and the fact its staff collectively speak more than 45 languages.
Purton says ACS’s widespread contacts prove useful when working with artistes such as Iron Maiden during the band’s 48-stop world tour with their Ed Force One aircraft.
“When we were in China with Iron Maiden we used our local office and contacts in government there to get the band flight slots that would have otherwise been unachievable,” says Purton. “Beijing and Shanghai have banned charter flights as the airports are so busy, but we used our connections to make sure the band could land at both airports, enabling them to get on with the tour.”
Among other artistes ACS has worked with are Adele, David Gilmour and Lou Reed.
One of the biggest changes Purton has seen in the music industry’s use of aircraft is the increased use of the 737 Classic aircraft for large groups.
Having been retired from use by airlines such as British Airways and Lufthansa, the aircraft have been converted into spaces able to accommodate up to 68 people in business class, with room for bedrooms and equipment.
Purton says artistes can be demanding when it comes to specific requirements on board, but he understands why.
“You can see the demands being placed on them; they are on the road and working all the time. Being on the plane is one of the few occasions they get real down time, so it is important to go the extra mile for them,” he says.
“The sky is truly the limit. The client gets what they want in our industry”
UK-based broker Premier Aviation has worked with artistes ranging from the Back Street Boys and The Black Eyed Peas, to the Rolling Stones and AC/DC over the years.
A specialist division of the Hunt & Palmer Group, 95 per cent of its business is with entertainment industry clients. Headquartered near London’s Gatwick airport, the company has offices in the US, Australia and Hong Kong providing 24-hour cover.
As a broker the company works with aircraft owners and operators worldwide, arranging flights using every type of aircraft, from a helicopter to the largest airliners. It also has a cargo division responsible for arranging worldwide freight charters to move touring artists’ equipment.
Premier director Adrian Whitmarsh has in recent years seen the air charter business become increasingly fast-paced and global, while the touring groups being transported have grown in size to the extent that they often need airliner-size aircraft.
“The size of touring parties has increased so clients require aircraft able to comfortably carry 30 to 50 passengers plus all their baggage; when they are on the road for two to there months at a go that can be more than 70 bags,” says Whitmarsh.
“Major tours are truly global nowadays but the availability of those aircraft in certain areas of the world can be counted on one finger, so the aircraft and experienced operators are in demand year-round,” he says. “Our challenge is to work with the owners and operators of those types of aircraft to advise and guide them on how to serve our client market.”
The increase in the size of touring parties being flown around the world has seen the logistics involved become significantly more challenging. Whitmarsh says it means careful planning with the tour manager’s team and coordination of everything from airport slots, pilots and cabin attendants to security, ground transport, baggage handling and hotels to make sure everything runs smoothly.
Another key development has been a dramatic improvement in the capabilities of the aircraft available to charter, with clients now able to select planes that are able to fly them halfway around the world without stopping.
Despite the luxury and exclusivity associated with travelling on private aircraft, Whitmarsh says it is often the most practical and cost effective solution.
“Nowadays business class rarely exists on short to medium range scheduled flights and even economy fares booked at short notice can be expensive. Availability for larger groups can be tight, so when all those issues are factored in, chartering an aircraft can be cost-effective.
“When you add in reduced travel times, more direct routings and less hotel stays away it all adds up to the only way to travel.”