In 2011, out of frustration with the antiquated jet charter industry and the demise of a daily scheduled flight from Heathrow to Palma, Majorca homeowner Clive Jackson decided to canvas the opinions of like-minded travellers here on the island and in London about a new project he planned to embark on - an on-demand jet charter platform, which he named Victor. It was not long before his new venture took to the skies.
It has since developed an award-winning approach to sustainability. Victor mandates the world’s first 200% carbon offsetting on every flight, at no extra cost to the customer. A unique combination of smart technology, transparent pricing and exceptional high-touch customer service means members are always connected and in control. A global network of more than 200 operators ensures instant access to thousands of aircraft and destinations.
But contrary to common perception, the private jet industry is not all about luxury travel for the rich and famous, far from it.
The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown the aviation industry into crisis, Clive told the Bulletin last week. After a record-breaking start to 2020, Victor founder Clive led a management buyout of the company in March 2020 to chart an independent future - the timing could not have been worse.
“No sooner had we taken back the company than COVID hit. In April, it felt like the whole world had suddenly fallen over a cliff. The planet just shut down and demand crashed. Our business tanked by around 90 per cent, so we decided we had to take a proactive approach and launched Victor Rescue, a front-line emergency service.
“I put 90 per cent of my staff on furlough and the remaining employees were registered as front-line workers, who would come to the office on the underground wearing full respiratory equipment. We set about providing a public service of air ambulances and medical evacuations, flying essential workers - from medical staff to nuclear scientists and power plant managers - around the world while operating repatriation and rescue flights to help people stranded in various parts of the globe get home or to where they were most needed. This included a group of key NHS staff who were vital to boost the health service in Gibraltar.
“It was non-stop and a real eye-opener. With commercial airlines almost grounded or operating restricted services for the best part of the first two months of the pandemic, we were being contacted by people for all sorts of reasons who were stuck across the world. We were even flying Chinese students studying in the UK and elsewhere in Europe back home. It was a high stress period but we felt we had a public duty to provide where others were failing.”
Eventually, come the end of June and the start of July, business began to return to normal and extremely fast.
“What was the most humbling thing for me, I think, was that I was able to get all of my staff out of furlough as soon as possible. At no point whatsoever have I gloated about how we managed to stay operating and have seen a marked uptick in business. I know some of my so-called colleagues have and I think they’ve behaved disgracefully.
“This is the time for businesses in whatever industry, which have just about managed to keep their heads above water, to help others from drowning. This is an extremely serious situation we’re having to confront and we offer a wide range of services which are in mounting demand. And there are two main reasons for this. The first is that commercial airlines are not operating full and reliable services. The second is that people are nervous about flying and an increasing number of people have decided health and safety is priceless and have decided to perhaps pay a little extra to protect their nearest and dearest. For example, a study carried out by Global Air concluded a passenger flying on a scheduled flight and having to use a commercial airport will come in to contact with at least 700 touch points. By travelling on a charter jet, that potential danger is reduced to between 20 and 30 touch points. During the first week in July, for example, we saw demand grow by 100 per cent compared to April, and many were first-time clients who had obviously weighed up the pros and cons.
“On-demand jet charter has been in high demand this summer, with airline capacity reduced and more new bookers looking to the efficiency and fewer touch points of private aviation. Customers benefit from use of the private terminal for check-in and security and control over who they come into contact with on board the aircraft, as well as the capability to fly direct to their end destination.
“Clients are now booking more last minute. This month, 88% of our departures from the UK are taking off less than one month after the booking versus 73% in August 2019. Flights are often with as little as 48 hours’ notice and COVID measures are carefully implemented on all bookings. Since the outbreak of COVID, all passengers must complete a passenger locator form prior to departure, and some countries complete spot-check COVID tests upon arrival. We certainly don’t offer a loophole to avoid all the rules and regulations, far from it.
“People are still flying to Palma, it’s our second most sought-after destination for the August Bank Holiday, and having been in Majorca myself just a few weeks ago, I can see why. The majority of people are doing what they are told and I felt very safe. Majorca is a safe destination and I shall be back shortly. The authorities need to get that message out there. The trending aircraft charter routes and destinations are typical for this time of year. However, this summer a greater percentage of flights are to second homes.
“In June and July this year, we saw that 60% of flights to Ibiza and Majorca were for homeowners or second homeowners on the islands. In comparison, fewer than 30% of the flights to Ibiza and Majorca were for homeowners or second homeowners in June and July 2019. This is vital for the island. I fear for the future of Majorca a great deal and would love to help in any way possible.
“If one looks at the global scale of the problem facing the travel, leisure and tourism industry, it is monumental. According to the latest WTTC figures, there are 330 million direct jobs in the industry. That accounts for one in ten jobs worldwide and the sector accounts for 10.3 per cent of global GDP. 64 million people alone are employed by the aviation industry. 2.7 million are directly employed and the rest are working in related sectors; their jobs are all at risk.
“There is a never-ending supply chain involved in tourism, travel and leisure and this has to be protected because its collapse would be a catastrophe for countries and regions around the globe, Majorca being a prime example. It cannot survive without tourism, holiday homeowners, etc.
“Maybe this is the perfect time for Majorca to sit down and work out where it goes from here with regard to tourists. Is it time to ditch budget visitors who, in Magalluf and Playa de Palma for example, do more harm than good?
“Majorca needs to start working on a long-term roadmap and to make sure it is in a position to react swiftly once we emerge from the pandemic. Perhaps fewer tourists but with more money to spend is the way forward. It can’t die.”