Connected Minds

If you want to charter your business jet you need to be able to satisfy nomophobes.

EVERY PERSON is unique. A perfect mass of emotions, life experiences, upbringing and beliefs.

Attempting to categorise individuals into different groups is a useless exercise. It fails to recognise that no two people are the same. Except in one way: those who want to be connected when flying and those who don’t.

But the second group, people who love the idea of sitting back and thinking, chatting with colleagues, reading, watching a film or maybe sleeping, are a diminishing breed.

The first group ranges from people who like to occasionally check emails to nomophobes, those who suffer real anxiety when their mobile phone is not working (you can diagnose them by the number of battery packs they carry).

As with most things wrong with aviation, you can blame the airlines. US carriers began offering inflight connectivity as early as 2008. However, the take-up elsewhere in the world has been much slower because the US has the most complete Air to Ground network where the internet signal is delivered by a series of land-based transmitters owned and operated by Gogo. “The US is light years ahead of the rest of the world,” says one aircraft broker. “Pretty much every US business aircraft has connectivity, no matter what size.”

Although a significant number of owners are happy not to be connected, having WiFi on an aircraft makes it easier both to sell and to charter it. At Corporate Jet Investor Miami 2018 an astonishing 97% of attendees now said that WiFi is a “must have” on aircraft.

“Pretty much every US business aircraft has connectivity, no matter what size.”

Adam Twidell, CEO of charter broker PrivateFly says that the number of clients requesting WiFi is growing all the time. “Operators who don't offer this are increasingly at a competitive disadvantage, as they can't attract the same charter rates.” He does, though, point out PrivateFly’s clients, with an average age of around 40, are younger than the market average.

Controlling costs

There used to be many horror stories in the industry about companies that had offered connectivity on their charter flights, only later to receive a connectivity bill far higher than the cost of the charter.

My record is €24,000 on a WiFi bill, London to Asia, and the principal didn’t even use it, it was his kids,” says one adviser.

Youngsters accidently downloading apps, videos or games are a common problem. PrivateFly says that it offers three distinct ways for a client to pay for connectivity: A flat fee which is worked out on average flight time and average data usage, tiered pricing based on usage level and the costlier pay-as-you go option, which works in much the same way as it does on cell phones.

One operator says that problems often arise when clients compare the price they were charged for internet access on an airline flight, to the price they are charged on a private jet:

“It’s £5 when you get on an airliner, that’s the kind of thing you’re basing it off. After the flight and sending the bill to a charter broker, and saying it’s another $1,000/$1,500 for your internet, that’s the point that you get into the huge arguments about. ‘You didn’t tell us it should’ve been switched off and all those kinds of things." He adds "But, after all this time it should start getting cheaper.”

Very few service providers publish price lists for internet usage, and these prices often change based not only on the deal that the service provider has struck with the operator but also on the satellite package the service provider has chosen. “We are all paying similar basic wholesale rates to the satellite owners as their service providers, and competition is strong for the users. Higher volume demand for bandwidth or megabytes used opens up a variety of rates and solutions to aircraft operators.“ says James Hardie, principle marketing manager for ARINCDirect.

The big lesson for owners, is that the first group will soon be even smaller. One adviser adds: “I think once clients have had it they tend to love it.

Alud Davies, Asia Editor, Corporate Jet Investor