Dubai: Abu Dhabi’s Royal Jet will expand its fleet this summer to tap ‘pent-up’ demand on certain routes – but that can only happen if restrictions are removed. It is operating at 65 per cent of its 2019 passenger traffic levels, but hopes to raise that to around 80 per cent by in the next two or three months as vaccination rates pick up.
“We're not coming back quite as fast as the smaller private jets are - but then we are still much faster than the airlines,” said Rob DiCastri, CEO of the Abu Dhabi-based private jet operator.
Although Dubai became a top destination for travellers wanting to escape the lockdowns in UK and Europe, private jet demand to fly to Abu Dhabi dragged for most of 2020. “It was a slow pickup (in Abu Dhabi) - we came to about 25 per cent of normal in July last year," he added. "But then we stayed at about 50 per cent until early this year.
“It was really only in the past two or three months we started to pick up a little more to the 60-65 per cent level.”
Different set of users
The normal economics of chartered flight companies does not apply to Royal Jet, which operates a fleet of Boeing Business Jets and caters to a high-profile flier. According to DiCastri, Royal Jet fits in the ‘premium private aviation sector,’ where “it’s not so much the corporate jets (or) smaller aircraft flying small groups. We have larger aircraft - 19 to 52 seats -and we do a lot of government, diplomatic flights and some medical evacuations.”
Like several UAE private jet operators, Royal Jet has flown in passengers from India and Pakistan in the past. However, that is not the big money-spinner for the operator. “We have done some trips to and from India, Pakistan… where there are groups getting together and leasing an aircraft,” said DiCastri. They’re looking for a more “high-density” aircraft with mostly economy seats, he added.
Typically, Royal Jet flies high-profile individuals to destinations such as Geneva, Paris, London and US cities. “We're hoping that will come back. Meantime there's a lot of travel to the Maldives, Seychelles and Morocco - we're hoping that this summer would be a little bit like summers in the past.”
A lot of people think that in the private jet world, you can get around those rules. Everyone has to follow the same rules
Travel between UAE and UK has come to a standstill due to mandatory quarantine measures. “People are going to other destinations instead. If that changes, I think we will probably get back to more people going to the UK and other destinations in Europe.”
In fact, the idea of "pent-up demand" was demonstrated when UAE and UK set up a quarantine-free travel corridor late last year. Within weeks, London-Dubai became the world’s busiest air route.
“A lot of people think that in the private jet world, you can get around those rules. Everyone has to follow the same rules,” said DiCastri. “You don't have to wait for a route to open up on an airline - but you definitely have to wait for the country to open up.”