x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

A first-class idea for private flights with flyvictor.com

For the lucky ones who 'turn left' when boarding an aircraft, the website flyvictor.com will now offer customers in the Middle East new levels of luxury, by making unused seats on executive jet flights available online.

Flyvictor.com is the brainchild of the dot.com entrepreneur Clive Jackson. Photo courtesy flyVictor.com
Flyvictor.com is the brainchild of the dot.com entrepreneur Clive Jackson. Photo courtesy flyVictor.com

If you are one of those people who turns left when you board an airliner, then you really need to read this - it could change the way you fly.

Tomorrow, a new website opens to Middle East travellers that will allow them to book spare seats onboard executive jets instead of just settling for business-class aboard a commercial airliner.

The site is called flyVictor.com and it is the brainchild of the dot.com entrepreneur Clive Jackson.

The concept is basically a price-comparison website that brings consumer choice to executive jet users, drives down prices and opens the market to those who could only previously have aspired to such luxury.

It gives jet charter companies the option of making open or surplus seats available for sale to other members of the flyVictor.com community. Individuals can search for available seats on preferred routes and dates or indicate their interest in a particular route to other members.

The system will send out email alerts when flights and seats become available.

"Members pool their interest in travelling by private jet to share the benefits and the costs, in a transparent and open environment where the terms and conditions of booking aircraft and seats are standardised," says Mr Jackson.

"Everyone works to the same rules and everyone wins. That's why we call the company Victor."

How it works is simple, says Mr Jackson. If you want to be a passenger, you join the company website for free and look for available seats. If you are a jet charter company, you sign up and register your aircraft and flyVictor.com brings you fare-paying passengers to fill the seats you would otherwise be hauling empty around the sky.

Mr Jackson, 53, is a British-born businessman with a track record in successful dot.com launches. In 1993, he founded Global Beach, which is still delivering interactive solutions for world brands, and in 2003 he launched the Autotorq digital-marketing business for the car sector.

And, although he has no aviation experience, the flyVictor.com concept, based in London, has launched him into one of the fastest-growing sectors in the industry.

His research suggests by bringing the cost of business jet travel down to the price of a business or first-class airline ticket, the potential market for private jet customers in Europe alone rises from 25,000 to 2.5 million.

If anyone wants to know how the market is expanding in the Middle East, they only have to look to Monday's traffic figures from Al Bateen Executive Airport, the dedicated business jet hub of the Abu Dhabi Airports Company.

Its traffic performance results for the first half of this year show a 30 per cent increase in visiting aircraft movements to the executive airport between January and June compared with the same period last year.

Overall commercial traffic in the first half was up 10 per cent with more than 5,000 movements by locally based and visiting aircraft.

"Al Bateen is again seeing double-digit growth of business jet movements, especially from visiting international aircraft that have not used the airport before," says Yousif Al Hammadi, the deputy general manager at Al Bateen.

Chartering a jet is a convoluted and expensive business. If you wish to charter an aircraft for a specific trip, you contact a broker, who selects an operator and comes back to you with a price, plus a hefty commission.

And if it is only you travelling and the jet is a six-seater, you pay for yourself, plus five empty seats. However, if you want to offset that cost and are happy to share the flight, flyVictor.com says it can now fill those spaces. "Say the price you are quoted is US$15,000 [Dh55,000] for an 8-seater," says Mr Jackson. "That's what you pay for your trip. With us, if we sell seats on your flight, the cost of your charter starts to come down. And the cost for the people who buy your seats comes down, too.

"So, say we sell three seats, that reduces your unit seat price to $5,000 each. If we sell all eight, its only $1,875 - the price of an airline business or first-class seat, except you don't have to go through the hassle of a commercial flight, the baggage check-in and weight restrictions, the queues, the security checks.

"And, if you're me, you can carry your favourite jars of English marmalade back in hand luggage without having them confiscated."

Mr Jackson's idea for flyVictor.com came when both BMI and British Airways ended their London to Palma de Mallorca scheduled flights. With one home in Berkshire in England and another on Mallorca in Spain, this presented a problem for Mr Jackson. It was a problem his fellow passengers on those flights shared.

"How were we going to get to and from our houses?" he says. "A private jet was the only answer. But at what cost? I am a dot.com company problem solver, so I knew the only solution was aggregating demand to bring down that cost."

He tested his solution on the Palma to London route between November 2009 and January 2010. The site offered seats at prices set at a percentage of the charter cost, plus a 5 per cent transaction fee. They sold 90.

The passengers ranged from private bankers to a concert pianist and an interior designer.

"If it worked to Mallorca, it would work worldwide," says Mr Jackson. "So we soft-launched in March 2011 and went fully live five months later."

This year, flyVictor.com raised £1.5 million (Dh8.94m) via a private placement, rather than venture capital or private equity, to bankroll an expansion in to Europe.

The placement was hugely oversubscribed, says Mr Jackson and was completed in less than eight weeks.

"The majority of investors are members or users of Victor and absolutely see why and how it's scaling up and decided to buy in," he says.

Now, on the eve of expanding the service to the Middle East, North America and Asia, the site has 2,082 members at the last count and regularly uses more than 200 executive jets.

A second round of fund-raising may follow in the first quarter next year, depending on how fast the business grows.

"In three years' time, existing charter operators will be flying more regularly because more people will be choosing to use private jets because they can buy by the seat," says Mr Jackson.

dblack@thenational.ae

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