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With private jets readily available, many passengers are opting for them amid regular flight suspensions Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Demand for private jets in the UAE, both inbound and outbound, has witnessed a huge spike ever since the outbreak of coronavirus, with stranded passengers willing to cough up the high costs amid global lockdowns and suspension of regular flights.

Even with the skies reopening in many parts of the world and scheduled flights taking off, passengers who can afford it are preferring to take private jets because they are more readily available, are deemed hassle-free and also help limit the risk of exposure to a large number of people on scheduled or chartered repatriation flights, bookings for which in any case are hard to get.

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Private jets allow for privacy which is considered a huge advantage during pandemic times Image Credit: Supplied

So who are these passengers?

Khaldoun Ghalayini

Khaldoun Ghalayini, managing director of Gulf Wings, among the first private jet operators in the UAE to cater to the post-COVID-19 demand, told Gulf News, “Prior to the onset of COVID-19, our passengers were mostly HNI and VIPs operating private jets mainly for privacy, superior schedule efficiency or simply for the sheer joy of indulging in luxury. Post COVID-19, however, we are witnessing a phenomenal demand for private jet travel. While the typical business jet travellers are still returning for business or holiday travel, the majority of movements in the months of April, May and June has been by stranded individuals trying to reunite with their families either back in their countries or here in the UAE.”

He said, “Many were really touching stories with children separated from parents, people dealing with sudden loss of loved ones, people newly diagnosed with serious illnesses, stranded away from family unable to get medical care to others or simply risking losing their jobs.”

Elie Hanna

Elie Hanna, Regional Director (Middle East, Africa and India) – Private Jets, Air Charter Service, echoes the words. “Typical passengers who are using our services now are the ones stuck in certain countries and are unable to fly to their destination due to the lack of scheduled flights by local airlines and airport restrictions. Others with pre-existing conditions are avoiding the use of normal terminals and paying extra to fly on a private jet and use less crowded facilities.”

What about approvals?

According to Hanna, “As with all aircraft charters worldwide, flights can only operate with the necessary approvals from the appropriate authorities. Passengers need to ensure they comply with the regulations set out by the authorities of the countries that they are flying from and to. When our clients call us with a request, we discuss the latest situation specific to their requirement.”

Ghalayani said, “While regulations have changed greatly over the past few months, we are now able to repatriate many passengers holding UAE residencies without them having to obtain ICA approvals. For outbound passengers, however, non-UAE nationals are allowed to exit without restriction, UAE nationals must still obtain MOFAIC approvals for their departure.”

Specific COVID-19 protocols, as stipulated by the authorities and the industry, must also be adhered to.

Separate access, flexi departure

The privacy that private jets afford is deemed as a big advantage during COVID-19 times as they allow passengers to avoid crowds. Business jet passengers get to fly out of separate luxury terminals called FBOs in complete privacy. Ghalayini said, “They drop their baggage at the doorstep of the FBO, get them delivered on their private limousine at their destination. Even their passports are stamped by dedicated agents and returned to them on the aircraft.”

The difference in experience is substantial, said Hanna.

He said 45 minutes is the required time to arrive at the terminal before a trip. “You have the flexibility to pick your departure time subject to airline approval,” he noted.

The companies said the entire journey is customised and planned around the passenger’s needs which covers preferred cuisine, music and entertainment.

How to charter a private jet? What’s the cost?

Private jets, which typically carry eight to 14 passengers, operate to many countries in the world from the UAE and can fly up to 13-15 hours non-stop.

Getting on to a private jet flight usually begins with a request for quotation. You you are provided a price and aircraft options to choose from. Once a choice is made, a contract and invoice are generated and payment must follow before scheduled departure date.

The cost of chartering a private jet, said Hanna, varies based on the type of aircraft, length of the flight and number of passengers it can carry.

Private jets are sold as full charter flights , not individual tickets. That’s why many stranded passengers travelling from one destination to another during the pandemic have had to rally together and split the cost of the charter.

Ghalayini said, “A major cost difference between private jets and airlines is that you pay for the entire aircraft. Whether you are one or 12 people are on board, cost is mostly unchanged. Chartering a private jet is primarily based on a fixed rate per hour. These hourly rates vary depending on the size of the aircraft and are closely linked it its running cost running between $5,000 and $8,000 per hour.”

Sample prices

Air Charter Service: Riyadh – Dubai  on a 12-seater aircraft: $24,000 - $27,500

Mumbai – Dubai  on a 13-seater aircraft: $38,200 - $44,000

Gulf Wings: Dubai – Riyadh – Dubai: $20,000 - $28,000

Dubai – Mumbai – Dubai: $35,000 - $42,000

If a private jet costs $36,000 and there are 12 people on board, the cost per head would come to $3,000.