Stock - Private jet
Private jet movements at Dubai South soared 336% in the first quarter of 2021, compared to the same period in 2020. Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: One might think that the return of commercial flights will lead to fewer takers for private flying – but that does not seem to be the case with Dubai-based operator Vista Global.

The COVID-19 crisis created a new market opportunity for the private aviation industry as it was able to reach first-time flyers, while emerging as the only means of transport for passengers affected by travel restrictions. Encouraged by falling cases and milder variants of the virus, countries have now opened up their borders once again.

Vistajet’s Middle East business has seen a 50 per cent growth in subscriptions in the last 12 months. “It is mind boggling,” said founder and chairman Thomas Flohr.

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Image Credit: Supplied

Flohr said the region, which enjoys geographical proximity to India, Europe and Africa, is ‘super important’ for the company.

Dubai, which opened itself to visitors as early as July 2020, quickly became a tourist hotspot as most countries enforced travel and strict lockdowns at home. Private jet movements at Dubai South soared 336 per cent in the first quarter of 2021, compared to the same period in 2020.

Dubai is the center of where most of the landings are happening, but Kuwait, Qatar and Saudi Arabia are also massively growing markets.

- Thomas Flohr of Vista Global

It is not just the Gulf that is doing well. Since the reopening of borders last year, Europe and North America have also come back in a big way and this has helped Vista Global offset the loss of the Russian market. Russia, which is currently engaged in a conflict with Ukraine, represented 3 per cent of the company’s revenue.

“That demand immediately got shifted because there was so much more demand elsewhere,” said Flohr. “We are seeing continuous growth at very high rates in Europe, Middle East and United States”

Russia-Ukraine conflict

On being asked whether Vista Global is flying passengers to and from Russia, Flohr said the company was in strict compliance with global sanctions. “We absolutely do not operate and there are sanctions in place, which we follow strictly,” said Flohr. “There is no backdoor (and) there is no circumvention - we have an entire compliance team in place that works daily with our operations team”

Russia has grown to become the second-largest source market for Dubai’s travel and tourism sector in 2021, climbing from eighth place in last year’s rankings, according to a Colliers report.

Last week, Emirates airline, which is owned by the Dubai government, said it would continue to operate flights to Russia ‘unless told otherwise’.

“The ownership has not directed us to do otherwise and so as long as we are not told not to operate to Russia, we will continue to do so,” said Emirates President Tim Clark during the World Government Summit in Dubai.

Demand to stay

Flohr is confident that despite a return in commercial flights, there will still be a strong preference for private jets in the market. “It’s a permanent shift,” said Flohr. “During the pandemic, corporations and individuals have seen the efficiency benefits of the business aviation market.”

Top destinations

A Vistajet spokesperson said that Saudi Arabia had picked up “massively,” with domestic Gulf travel higher than levels seen in the past 6 months. Outside of the region, the US and Europe have been the most popular destinations from the Middle East.

As per multiple sources, a one-way flight from Dubai to Riyadh has an estimated cost of about $12,000 (Dh44,000). To fly to Mumbai, passengers will have to shell out $25,000 (Dh92,000) – London will cost them at least $50,000 (Dh183,648).