When Louis Blériot made his pioneering flight across the English Channel in 1909, he couldn’t have foreseen the frustrations facing today’s frequent flyers. Security restrictions, delays, cramped seating, and lost luggage have been changing the way some people fly. Travel by private jet – known generally as business aviation – and you’re in a rarefied world of personal service. You arrive at the private terminal just half an hour before departure, are greeted by your captain, and escorted – with your luggage – to a comfortable, well-equipped aircraft. In the booming business aviation sector (accounting for around 7% of European flights), the Swiss company JetClub has an enviable reputation – managing and operating a fleet of aircraft on a global basis, and offering a sales and consultancy service. On Mallorca, they’re represented by Hamilton Aviation – set up a decade ago by British aviation specialist Antony Rivolta, and trading as JetClub in Spain.
Antony’s interest in aviation began in childhood; were it not for colour blindness, he’d have become a pilot. At the age of 15, he told his careers teacher he wanted to work in aircraft sales . . . but wasn’t taken seriously. His first job was with Air Hanson, which became a distributor for Bell Helicopters and Beechcraft agent. For 25 years, he enjoyed a varied career in marketing and sales with manufacturers of business jets, before starting his company on Mallorca, in partnership with a friend in the yacht business. Aircraft sales now make up 70% of the business and, in 2007, Antony’s company had a $160m turnover. His careers teacher would be impressed.
In the early 1990s, owning a private jet was the province of wealthy Arabs and rich celebrities – like Stephen Spielberg, Jim Carrey, Harrison Ford and Oprah Winfrey. Today, it’s as likely to be business people, who consider it acceptable in terms of cost, image, flexibility, convenience and security. A private jet costs between $1m and $60m to buy, and the weakness of the American dollar is favourable for European buyers. But supply is outstripping demand and there’s a waiting list for new aircraft from manufacturers such as Cessna and Gulfstream. Smart – and very rich – prospective clients have been known to order two aircraft and sell one on. “It’s a multi-billion dollar business,” says Antony.
“For the first time, in the last two or three years, new business aircraft sales have been 25% in the US market and 75% overseas – whereas it used to be the other way around.” Ninety per cent of Antony’s sales are pre-owned aircraft. Spain is a huge growth market for chartering and ownership. Five billionaires have been created in the last two or three years, and Spain accounts for 30% of business jet sales. “The upper level in Spanish society aspires to be like the north Europeans,” explains Antony. “Among those with jets are the owners of large Spanish hotel groups, property developers and real estate companies.” And the Russians are “buying jets like they’re going out of fashion,” says Antony. Many of them register their aircraft outside Russia.
Brokering sales is both interesting and lucrative, and it’s been transformed by the use of the Internet (around 90% of transactions are now done this way). Clients tell Antony their requirements and he sources what’s best for them, arranging any demonstration flights and technical checks required. Technology plays an important role. On the charter side, he accesses databases for information on aircraft, their routes and availability, to meet his clients’ needs. In Europe, there are 500 business jets for charter, and around 50 operating companies. But his clients also travel beyond Europe. Last year, Antony arranged around 400 flights all over the world, on behalf of 75 clients. Chartering a private jet costs from €2,500 an hour, for a five-seater jet, but you also have to pay for the immediate return leg of the flight. A two-hour flight to, say, London, Frankfurt, Zurich or Geneva, would therefore cost around €10,000 in a light jet.
A major benefit of business jets is their ability to use conveniently-located smaller airports and airfields. Skiing trips by business jet afford the opportunity to hit the slopes much sooner after landing: many of Antony’s UK clients who travel here in summer optimise their ski trips this way. Winter charters from Palma to London, to connect with Caribbean flights, are also popular. British clients make up 60% of the chartering business; Spanish represent 20% and the rest are a mix of German, Swiss, Scandinavian and Russian. I can’t persuade Antony to reveal the names of any of his clients: “Discretion is an important aspect of business aviation, and we always honour this.”
For those who can afford it, there’s a wealth of advantages in the “private jet set” .
Tel: +34 971 702 699,