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Flying High

Features
December 4, 2018
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With time, ease of movement and privacy being such precious commodities for hard-working artistes, private jets have become an integral element of many a fine-tuned world tour and, often, make possible concerts that couldn’t otherwise happen.  Christopher Barrett reports.

Whether it is John Denver’s Leaving On A Jet Plane, Red Hot Chilli Peppers’ Aeroplane or Frank Sinatra singing Come Fly With Me, music and air travel have long been symbiotic.

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While Frank had his own Learjet 23, Elvis Presley a Convair 880 named after his daughter Lisa Marie, and Led Zeppelin a Boeing 720 christened The Starship, for most A-list artistes flying privately means engaging a charter operator to arrange a private jet as and when needed.

One of the longest established leading global operators, Air Partner, was founded more than 50 years ago. The company is headquartered close to London’s Gatwick Airport and has a global reach through 20 offices worldwide, in city’s including Cologne, Los Angeles, Milan. New York and Paris.

“Our access to every type of aircraft ensures worldwide coverage for clients in the music industry, no matter how complex or extensive their charter is,” says Air Partner senior account manager, music charter, Nicola Taylor.

In the industry for 24 years, Taylor explains that with client privacy being integral to her company’s service she is not able to reveal client names, but says they include everything from DJs to major touring rock bands.

“We work with internationally recognised stars and bands on a regular basis, flying household names around Europe, the US and beyond,” she says. “Recent clients included flying a world-renowned rock band on their European tour, which entailed flying an incredible 50 sectors in just three months.

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“One world-famous DJ was flown around Europe on a Legacy aircraft for a whole summer going from sell-out gig to sell-out gig.”

She says that by not having its own fleet of aircraft, Air Partner is able to pick and choose the perfect aeroplane to suite the individual needs of clients.

“Each new aircraft has its own unique selling point, be it lavish seating, extra galleys, increased cargo capacity, lower internal noise, better Wi-Fi or more stylish and spacious interiors,” she says.

While Led Zeppelin’s aeroplane was furnished with a 30-foot-long couch, a bar with built-in electric organ, and a bedroom complete with shower room, the modern music professional usually has less decedent requirements.

“It’s a great urban myth that the stereotypical private jet music client will want gourmet dining, vintage wines or champagnes and bacchanalian levels of inflight entertainment,” says Taylor. “The reality is far more mundane.

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“Being away from home and on the road for months at a time is very tough for many of our music clients. What we often find is they are far more likely to want home comforts, like fish and chips, lots of tea and favourite movies they know and love.”

Some 75 per cent of Premier Aviation’s business comes from music industry clients and over the past 25 years the company has worked on more than 200 major tours, with clients such as the Rolling Stones, AC/DC and the Backstreet Boys.

Also headquartered near London’s Gatwick airport, Premier Aviation has offices in the US, Australia and Hong Kong providing 24-hour cover.

Premier broking manager Lizzy Templer has a music industry background with record and management companies, so was no stranger to the nuances of the touring business when she joined the company in1995.

The work is very hands on, she says, with many days spent fine-tuning things such as airport transfer procedures.

“Recently we had a tour through Asia, so our man in Hong Kong went to all the departures to ensure that they went smoothly and the artiste got from car to aircraft in the quickest most discreet way, no mean feat in that part of the world,” she says.

Typically, tour managers approach the company with a set of dates and its team then draws on its knowledge of airports, their curfews and runway lengths, to put together several possible itineraries.

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Templer says the growth of the festival market has made the process more complex.

“It is always a challenge to find the best airport for some very way-out places that artistes play these days. Then, once we find it, there can be long negotiations to get the airport to stay open late,” she says.

Another significant change Templer has seen while at Premier, is that the most popular aircraft for music tours has grown considerably in size.

“Now it is the 13-seat Legacy 600, but 20 years ago it was the much shorter 11 – to 12-seat Challenger 600 and Falcon 2000 aircraft, which also had less room for baggage,” she says.

Meeting demands

On the other side of the world and headquartered in Brisbane on Australia’s east coast is AVMIN, which was founded seven years ago and was acquired by the Flight Centre Travel Group in 2015.

Active on every continent, the company provides everything from helicopters and corporate jets to airliners.

In an average year, around 15 per cent of AVMIN’s business comes from the music industry. Among artistes it has worked with include Mumford & Sons, Coldplay, Keith Urban, Foo Fighters, Santana and One Direction.

AVMIN MD Paul O’Brien, who has been in the aviation industry for 15 years, says his company has enjoyed a remarkable level of loyalty from its music clients.

“I can happily say that once a band has used us once, we’ve never lost them as a client,” he says.

Aside from offering a reliable, efficient and private experience for clients, O’Brien says the ability to spring into action and resolve unforeseen challenges is the kind of thing that has helped the business win such steadfast custom.

“We had an occasion where a client wanted some downtime in between gigs and found themselves stranded on an island with no way back in time for the next concert,” he says. “Needless to say we mobilised a private jet to get them back to work. There’s never a dull moment in our business.”

Last year the company launched Jetbidders, a proprietary online technology that is being used in Australia and Asia. It enables clients to gain access to thousands of safety-approved aircraft in real time.

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“We wanted our customers and suppliers to have information at their fingertips,” says O’Brien. “The technology has come a long way. It led to us winning a major contract with Queensland Government in October last year and since then we have transacted over AUS$4.5 million [US$3.25m] worth of charter flights through the technology.”

A Jetbidders mobile app is in the pipeline for next year.

Jet setters

When Victor acquired Santa Barbara-based YoungJets in 2015, a service dedicated to touring acts, the long-established private jet operator significantly increased its focus on the music market.

Headquartered in London and with bases in New York, Santa Barbara and Munich, the company has worked with an array of acts including Metallica, Rihanna, Calvin Harris, Ellie Goulding and Kendrick Lamar.

Victor private office MD David Young, the founder of YoungJets and a former artiste manager, is primarily focused on music industry clientele who range from EDM stars, DJs and hip-hop acts to rock and pop bands.

Young says that while the past year has seen a reduction in the number of EDM artistes using the company’s service, it has been busy transporting rock and pop acts in stye.

“When you’re dealing with major music acts, the service goes beyond the logistical support of providing aircraft, you are dealing with emigration processes, security details, trying to find the best routes to avoid paparazzi and keeping rabid fans at bay,” he says.

“There is a different level of support that comes with the territory – we are constantly mitigating risk, not just in the air but on the ground.”

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Young says that while the type and size of the jet will naturally depend on client requirements, including load capacity, number of seats on board and pricing, among the jets most regularly used by the music industry are the Embraer Legacy 600 and Embraer Legacy 650E, which can accommodate up to 14 passengers.

Like Taylor, Young’s experience of dealing with top tier music industry clients rarely involves dealing with flamboyant demands.

“The people who are successful and fly repeatedly are more prone to be concerned about the kind of green tea on offer, rather than making outrageous requests – to them it is a business tool and we are part their crew,” he says.

“It is the one-off flyer, the younger celebrity who is still travelling with an entourage and sees something novel and exciting about flying in a private jet, where thing can get difficult.”

After a long day being in the spotlight, Young says artistes often see the private aircraft as a sanctuary, somewhere they can unwind, check their email and most importantly save time.

“Travelling on your own schedule is probably the biggest advantage of private aircraft. When you are a high net-worth individual, time is the only currency that maters, you can’t buy time,” he says.

Air Charter Service (ACS) was founded by its chairman Chris Leach from the basement of his home in Kingston-upon-Thames in the UK in 1990.

Since then it has grown to become an international business, that arranges more than 10,000 charters every year via its offices in Africa, Asia, Australia, North and South America, Europe and the Middle East.

Based in the London office, director of private jets Georgina Heron says the 24-hour service has access to more than 7,000 aircraft available for charter.

“We only use operators that we have determined trustworthy and provide the high level of service that we demand, and that our clients expect,” she says. “We have fantastic relationships which allow us to command competitive pricing.”

Heron say ACS regularly works with record companies, tour managers and artiste managers.

“We have flown many artistes over the years, including recent Glastonbury and Coachella festival headliners,” says Heron. “The [UK’s] Isle of Wight Festival always generates a lot of enquiries due to its location.”

She says the summer festival season presents challenges in terms of routes and timings for the company.

“We are always trying to get passengers to the closest possible private airports to their destinations to negate the ground time. Our specialists spend a lot of time persuading smaller airports to remain open, with fees of course,” she says.

When it comes to customer demands onboard aircraft, Heron says requests can range greatly from client to client.

“Some have PowerPoint presentations on exactly what they want, including the temperature of their drinking water and the colour of the cushions on board, whereas others simply love to set a challenge with obscure Korean health drinks or very specific wine vintages,” she says.

Trust factor

SHY Aviation charter sales manager Harry Morgan says the company has seen the number of its music industry clients grow significantly in the past couple of years, largely due to positive word-of-mouth generating repeat business.

As a result, approximately 40 per cent of the company’s turnover now comes from the music industry.

“In the music business, particularly with tour managers, you build up a relationship and the trust element is so key,” he says. “Once you have their trust, we find music business customers to be the most loyal. A tour manager has so much pressure on them that they are not going to use anyone, they need to know the company they are using can absolutely be relied on.”

With offices in Canada, Spain, UK and US, and one planned in Mexico, Morgan says SHY Aviation has a global reach and is able to accommodate the needs of all clients, ranging from a DJ and his laptop to the logistical challenges that come with a band on a major world tour.

Morgan admits that private air travel is far from cheap but the benefits for artistes make it an attractive proposition.

“It can cost £60,000 [$76,500]to fly one-way from London to New York or £80,000 [$102,000] one way from London to Los Angeles, so if you are on a world tour chartering private aircraft becomes incredibly expensive,” he says.

“But, the convenience of a private jet is incredible for these artistes. If after finishing their concert they want to hang around that’s no problem the aircraft will wait for them. If they get a scheduled flight and it is delayed, or they miss it, it can lead to major problems. It comes down to the value that they put on the convenience, if they value that highly than private air travel is economically acceptable.”

While SHY Aviation offers an app that enables customers to search and book flights from their mobile devices, Morgan says music industry clients almost always prefer the personal touch and want staff to oversee all arrangements.

The human touch

Based at Farnborough Airport in the UK, with representation in France, Monaco, and the Netherlands, Bookajet arranges flights worldwide.

The company started life in 1997 as a charter broker, sourcing aircraft from other operators and arranging flights for direct clients. In 2005 the company obtained its Air Operators Certificate and became a carrier too, operating a fleet of jets.

“Most brokers are very knowledgeable about the market but don’t necessarily have operational experience, while most carriers have experience in operating their own aircraft but don’t necessarily know much about other carriers in the market – Bookajet has both,” says manager Daniel Costantini, who has been with the company since its inception.

Around 20 per cent of the company’s business comes from the music industry, with the peak season being the summer due to the rise in the number of tours, festivals and club nights.

“We have flown some of the most high-profile bands and artistes in the world, as well as some of the top earning DJs,” says Costantini.

With online systems enabling customers to search for the best price the market has become increasingly competitive but Costantini says it is worth paying more for the better level of service provided by a good quality operator.

“In the event of a problem, a good broker or operator will be looking out for you and will provide support and back-up, watch for potential problems and pre-empt them,” he says.

“Automation and technical intervention can be very useful, but there are so many influencing factors in aviation that are out of anyone’s control, such as weather, airport opening times, crew duty restrictions and air traffic delays, that it is almost impossible to completely automate the booking.”

Founded by Adam Twidell and chief marketing officer Carol Cork in 2008, PrivateFly is a charter broker with offices in the US and UK. This year the company became part of Directional Aviation, one of the world’s largest aviation groups, and merged with its  existing charter broker Skyjet.

PrivateFly’s online market place enables potential customers to submit flight request and quickly peruse competitive responses from accredited aircraft operators around the world.

Cork say that in the decade since PrivateFly was launched, she has seen huge changes in the way private jet travel is bought and sold.

“The rise of on-demand charter in particular has been a very big shift, with technology-driven services such as PrivateFly making it much easier for clients to search from a very wide range of global options, and to book what’s right for them,” she says.

Around 15 per cent of the company’s work comes from the music and wider entertainment industry. Cork says that every client has different on-board demand but singers in particular are often particularly concerned about cabin humidity and the impact it has on their voices.

“Someone who flies transatlantically with us chooses to fly in a Dassault Falcon 7X aircraft as it comes with a humidifier and bacteria filter,” she says.

Aside from ensuring the comfort of customers, the number one challenge for air operators  working with music industry clients is making sure they are able to stick to their often highly demanding schedules.

“Recently we arranged to fly an artiste from Spain into London for a whistle-stop recording session at a studio close to the airport,” Cork relates.

“He had to take off again less than an hour later. We had to manage the logistics very carefully to ensure that car transfers were waiting and every minute was accounted for.”

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