New Zealand companies are whisking staff to meetings around the country on private jets to save time and avoid potential exposure to Covid-19.
At more than $8000 an hour in the air, it is not a cheap option, but charter companies say businesses are prepared to pay for the convenience of avoiding crowded terminals and time-consuming flights on public airlines.
Director-General of Health Dr Ashley Bloomfield demonstrates the correct way to put on a mask.
As the border closures drag on, air charter operators are also increasingly quoting for private jet trips to the Pacific Islands for people desperate to holiday overseas and prepared to pay for the privilege.
GCH Aviation marketing manager Caroline Blanchfield said most of the customers for its Bombardier Challenger jet were businesspeople for whom time was money.
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Commercial airline flight schedules post-Covid-19 made it difficult to do day trips to some regional centres, and limiting exposure to Covid-19 was another consideration.
“There’s demand for people wanting to travel in privacy in their own bubble.”
Blanchfield said the jet, which cost $8500 an hour in the air, was doing up to five business flights a week, and for 10 people that worked out to about $1600 each for a return flight from Christchurch to Palmerston North.
“If you’re trying to close a multi-million dollar deal it’s a few thousand to get to your meeting and back again quickly.”
Corporates were also entertaining clients by taking them to the likes of Queenstown instead of doing trips overseas.
About seven private charter jets are based at Air Center One’s terminal at Auckland International Airport and chief executive Robin Leach said corporate work had picked up since Covid-19.
“It has helped make up for the fact that we don’t have too many international visitors these days.”
Leach agreed time saving was a big drawcard and business executives liked the fact they could hop straight on their aircraft, instead of waiting in a terminal with hundreds of other passengers.
“You could still be sitting in the terminal building waiting for the plane to depart while the charter flight will be at the top of descent above the airport it’s going to land at.”
Although regional airline, Sounds Air, doesn’t fly jets. Chief executive Andrew Crawford said Covid-19 had increased demand for business charters of its turboprop aircraft, but that had tailed off in recent times as concerns about the spread of Covid-19 declined.
“It was quite busy in August and September, there were a lot of people saying ‘I’m never going back on a normal airline.’
“People had trepidation about doing that, and if you have six people going to a meeting it’s pretty cost effective,” Crawford said.
Kiwis suffering “cabin fever” from being unable to leave the country were driving enquiries about private holiday charter flights to the Pacific Islands, Noumea and Tahiti.
Blanchfield recently quoted $107,000 for a flight to Rarotonga from Christchurch, staying seven days and returning.
She said solid bookings were likely once the requirement for quarantining on return to New Zealand was dropped.
However, Inflite charter manager Paul Aston has noticed a change in attitude over the past 10 days as people began to realise borders were unlikely to reopen this year.
Some potential holiday-makers were prepared to quarantine at their own expense on arrival back home.
“We’re starting to see people who’re going ‘stuff it, I’m going to move.’
“We’re talking half a dozen [inquiries] for the Cook Islands alone. They range from individuals to groups of 100 to 150 people where we’d use something like an A320 aircraft.”
Inflite has six jets and up to 15 turboprop aircraft to call on, and Aston said there had been a spike in demand from sports teams using charters to travel to games around the country.
Over the last four months the company had arranged close to 30 flights into Christchurch alone for sports teams.
“They’re starting to think, how can we move our teams in a safe manner, and get them to and from games with the least overnight stays.
“They’re finding their team members are more focused and they’re arriving fresher.”
Although a charter was never cheaper than a regular commercial flight, Aston said cutting out a night’s accommodation meant it might only be five to 10 per cent more for a team to travel that way.
“They just want to get into a city, do what they want to do, and get out.”