The complexity of fractional jet operations
Nick Copley, president of SherpaReport, does the heavy lifting when it comes to defining what you need to know about access to business aviation, whether full ownership, fractional, jet cards or charters.
This week he explores the complex nature of fractional aircraft operations.
The recent acquisition of North American maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) provider Flying Colours by fractional operator Flexjet is an unsurprising response to the current market: business aviation movements are buoyant and the maintenance section is consolidating.
This has resulted in restricted MRO slot availability for maintenance, repairs, and interior refurbishments. As one of the largest fractional jet operators, and planning to add a steady number of aircraft to its fleet over the next five years, Flexjet has made a strategic decision to own its MRO providers to ensure their fleet always has priority.
When you stop to think about it, the MRO piece is just one part of a very complex puzzle that is fractional jet operations management.
On a typical day, looking at the larger fractional managers, NetJets may operate 500 flights, Flexjet 200 flights, and PlaneSense 100. A bewildering number of variables are at play when you have diverse owners, a mixed fleet of aircraft types, short- and long-range national and international routes, and a good amount of unpredictability as owners can request flights with only a few hours’ notice.
Photo courtesy of Flexjet, showing their new Global Operations Control Center.
Operating a fractional fleet requires a highly skilled and multidisciplinary team that includes scheduling experts, flight dispatchers, meteorologists, operations personnel, maintenance teams, owner service representatives, training professionals and technical staff to ensure crews and aircraft match owners' needs and requirements.
So, what are the core components for fractional jet operators to consider?
One key is the efficient, optimized management of all the aircraft. The assets must be purchased, maintained, and regularly updated to stay attractive to owners and to ensure safety and regulatory compliance. These are floating fleets that are constantly on the move carrying owners and repositioning to pick up the next passengers. Making this usage efficient and minimizing empty legs is key, and nonetheless about a third of flights are empty.
Another core component is optimizing human resources operations. The multiple crews must be type rated and current with the latest training standards, service standards, and safety protocols. Sourcing talent is a challenge in the business aviation sector, and for fractional operators, crew hiring, training and retention are crucial factors that can make or break success.
Sophisticated scheduling systems and the personnel to ensure schedules are maintained are required to balance the trained, type-rated crews with the constantly evolving flight schedules for multiple aircraft (some of which will require maintenance or have unexpected technical issues), and the owners that have the privilege of changing flight times at a few hours’ notice. The larger fractional providers tend to build their own optimization software because the challenges they face are so unique.
The human factor may be the most complex part of the fractional operation equation. Owners have high expectations that their needs and requirements will be met at every stage of the journey. Robust owner service departments are essential to handle flight inquiries, a myriad of diverse owner requests, and scheduling flexibility. Owners expect the aircraft to be customized to meet exacting standards around cabin configurations, crew, accessories, cuisine, newspapers, mood lighting, and more. An excellent fractional operator will know why an owner is travelling - a personal celebration or a business trip, with or without clients onboard, or maybe for medical reasons - and tailor the trip accordingly. The real skill is to make each owner feel valued, welcomed, and satisfied with service, no matter the situation. And when the unexpected happens, the owner service team must communicate transparently about the evolving situation.
This is private aviation, so the unexpected does happen, and when it occurs across large fleets of aircraft the ripple effects can be significant. Natural phenomena in the form of weather, natural disasters, spontaneous civil unrest, medical emergencies, or mechanical issues can adversely affect flights. In developing markets, animal invasions of runways, dated charts, or unexpected airport closures can cause havoc as well. Developing a robust emergency response plan to address unforeseen events underpins activities. The larger fractional operators have staff dedicated to tracking air space closures, runway refurbishments, and international political and economic activity which may all affect flight optimization.
Behind the scenes, the financial component of fractional operations is equally complicated. Fractional owners purchase defined usage, resulting in complex billing structures that include upfront costs, monthly management fees, occupied flight hour charges, and additional services. Meticulous financial tracking and reporting are fundamental for successful management. As owners upgrade or downgrade the aircraft they use, or flights incur incremental costs or services, there’s a legion of financial and administrative minutiae to accurately keep track off.
Overall, fractional operations are like proverbial swans: while all may look smooth and elegant from above, below the surface, efficient, powerful forces are crucial to move the system along.
For over 15 years, SherpaReport.com has been a comprehensive, independent source for in-depth information about the burgeoning shared luxury travel market. It is a constantly updated online hub for those seeking news, analysis, and directories to help them make informed decisions about whether buying a private aircraft or investing in alternatives such as fractional ownership, jet cards and/or charters are right for them, their families, and their companies.
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