What was the genesis of PrivateFly?
PrivateFly has just turned ten and back in 2008, we were a disruptive startup. Our CEO and my co-founder and husband Adam Twidell had worked in the private jet industry for years as a pilot and consultant. Together we saw the opportunity to make booking a private jet faster and easier, by creating an online booking platform, to mirror the tech-focussed aggregation that was transforming other parts of the travel industry.
How does the PrivateFly booking process work?
PrivateFly’s web and app platforms are integrated with 7,000+ private jet aircraft, based worldwide – from helicopters and light jets, to VIP converted airliners. We connect private jet customers and travel agents with the best-placed aircraft for their trip – to give instant estimate pricing, expert advice, and rapid response booking 24/7.
What does the company do that no one else does?
PrivateFly is unique in that we combine bespoke technology with an expert team, who are truly passionate about aviation. In addition to our CEO Adam, who was in the RAF before becoming a private jet pilot, many of our team are pilots or have aviation degrees. Our customers know they are dealing with people who understand aircraft and, combined with the speed and efficiency of our platform, this creates a distinctive, customer-focussed proposition, that sets us apart.
What is the profile of your typical customer?
The typical private jet customer is not what many people imagine. While we do work with many ultra high worths, celebrities and sports stars, we also fly business people, families looking for a better travel experience, or special occasion groups.
Each quarter we produce a report, Private Jet Charter Trends, which looks at our customer demographics and flight trends. In 2017 as a whole, our average client was 40 years old. As millennials continue to enter the workforce, this younger generation will become the next private jet audience – demanding more choice, customisation and personalisation.
Do your customers tend to be very wealthy individuals or companies booking on behalf of their executives?
It’s a bit of both. These days, more and more high profile or wealthy clients make their own travel arrangements, particularly when a platform like ours makes it much faster and easier to compare and book. Or we might work with their assistant or PA.
But we also work closely with partners including travel management companies, premium travel agents, concierge groups and sports agents, who book private jet travel on behalf of their clients.
How has the sector developed over the years you’ve been involved?
It’s changed enormously over the past ten years. When we started out, private jet charter was offered through traditional phone-based brokers or through very expensive fractional ownership programs. There was a lot of inefficiency and a lack of transparency to customers.
We launched at the start of the recession which hit the private jet industry hard, as it did many others. But in fact the economic conditions proved to be just as much a catalyst as a barrier for us. Our proposition – offering a more transparent and cost-effective way to book on demand private jet charter – had strong appeal in a more cost-conscious climate.
Thankfully last year saw the whole industry move back into growth, for the first time since 2008.
Do you see your product becoming more accessible or remaining exclusive?
More accessible for sure. While private jet travel is never going to compete with budget airlines on cost, there are a number of new business models, experimenting with private aviation propositions, opening up the market at entry level.
But of course for some customers, the exclusivity and luxury of private jet travel is all part of the appeal. So I think the market will continue to get broader
What is the next big information technology innovation in the industry?
Payment transactions is an area ripe for disruption, and blockchain financial technology has the potential to become a much more mainstream solution in our industry. Payment in bitcoin (and etherium and others) may still be niche, but its popularity is growing rapidly. PrivateFly was the world’s first private jet company to offer bitcoin payment back in 2014 and we have since seen demand grow significantly.
What are the challenges in PrivateFly’s business sector?
There are many challenges – including changing customer expectations, a shifting competitor landscape, and complex trading conditions, especially with Brexit on the horizon.
But we’re prepared for these and, as we have grown, we’ve remained agile. We like a challenge here at PrivateFly!
Was aviation a natural fit in your career?
I didn’t set out to work in aviation at the start of my career, but I worked in sales and marketing roles within the luxury sector, which obviously is a good fit for PrivateFly. I have always been passionate about travel, in a wider sense, and when I met Adam (my husband and co-founder) aviation became a big part of my life! I now can’t imagine working in any other sector.
What is your role within the company?
As Marketing Director, I head up the overall marketing strategy for PrivateFly, including our digital marketing, brand marketing, and communications activity. I also sit on our board of directors, helping to steer PrivateFly’s growth strategy and development.
It’s incredibly varied, so I might be overseeing a new video project one day, pitching for a new business contract, or travelling between our UK and US offices (we’re based in St Albans, just north of London and also in Fort Lauderdale, Florida).
What do flying and travel mean to you personally? Is there ever a danger of it becoming a busman’s holiday?
When you run a business, especially as a husband-and-wife team, you know that the lines between work and the rest of your life are going to be indistinct. But if anything, my work means I love to travel even more!
Last summer, Adam and I took an extended trip in Florida, with our children. We spent some of the time working out of our Fort Lauderdale office, and were also able to travel within the US.
We have an eclectic approach to travel as a family. We’re just as likely to be found travelling by private jet, as we are to be taking a campervan around Croatia, or staying in a remote spot on a Scottish island. I love travel in all its many forms.
What would make your ideal destination – either one you have been to or a potential experience?
There are so many! I fell in love with Jordan, when we travelled there a few years ago. It was so diverse – the food, the history and the people all left a lasting impression on me.
Somewhere I’d love to visit as a family is Botswana. We all love wildlife and have never been to Africa as a family. I’d love to do a safari in the Okavango Delta.