How to Build an Empire

Kenn Ricci CJI cover small

To understand the scale of Directional Aviation you just need to walk around any busy US business aviation airport.

As is most obvious, you will see a Flexjet aircraft – with an FX tail number. Most are carrying fractional and lease owners, but some aircraft which have aged out of the fractional lineup are carrying passengers who will have booked through Sentient or FXAIR. Some of these aircraft will have been maintained by Constant Aviation; flown by pilots trained by SimCom; managed by Corporate Wings; sold by Sojourn Aviation; or financed by Stonebriar Commercial Finance (where he is a minority investor). You may see re-engineered Nextant aircraft take-off or a patient being carried out of a Reva Air Ambulance.

Directional's invisible hand reaches across the industry like no other single company. This diversity has also allowed Directional to end 2020 with a record year.

Kenn Ricci, its founder, is about to celebrate his 40th anniversary in business aviation. But has no plans to slow down. He has just floated his first public company – a Special Purpose Acquisition Company (SPAC) and is still looking to grow Directional both in the US and internationally. In 2020 it pushed on with Flexjet in Europe and launched FXAIR.

Ricci bought Corporate Wings, an operator, charter and maintenance company, in 1981. Mike Rossi joined as chief financial officer (CFO) in 1984 and the pair started acquiring fixed base operators (FBOs) or private jet terminals. Ricci flew a lot during this time – including for Governor Clinton's presidential campaign. In fact the campaign team leased an aircraft from Corporate Wings.

In 1998, he launched Flight Options a fractional operator that started with pre-owned aircraft and grew quickly soon ordering new aircraft. Flight Options fleet was dominated by Beechcraft and Hawker aircraft, which was at the time owned by Raytheon. In 2001 it merged with Raytheon Travel Air (and ordered $900m of new Raytheon aircraft types). A few years later Ricci offered to buy Raytheon out but was instead outbid and sold his stake.

He has often said that selling Flight Options was a mistake, but the sale led to the creation of Directional Aviation Capital. In the early 2000s private equity companies started looking at business aviation. He and Rossi were approached by several and decided to work with Allied Capital, which had ended up owning a chain of FBOs when a loan went bad. Directional took a 25% stake. Three years later Macquarie bought it for more than $600m. In 2009 it was able to buy back Flight Options.

Directional Aviation now consists of around 13 companies (it depends on how you view each division). These employ more than 2,000 people and generate more than $1.5bn in sales each year. They operate more than 175 business aircraft (and have more than 80 on order); making Directional the third largest operator by flight hours (behind NetJets and Wheels Up). It ranks higher on profit.

Directional itself has just two direct employees – Ricci and Rossi, its CFO. "It is just a lawyer and an analyst," jokes Ricci.

"Mike and Kenn are very yin and yang," says one business aviation veteran who knows them well. "They have very different outlooks, which is why they are such a strong combination. Kenn has a lot of vision but Mike is also very good at focusing it."

Kenn has a lot of qualities and one of these is hiring great people.
Chairman - Kenn Ricci

Timeline

  • 2020:
  • Launches Zanite SPAC
  • Launches charter company FXAIR
  • Spins off Tuvoli
  • Flexjet Europe receives first Praetor 600
  • 2019:
  • Launches Flexjet in Europe
  • Launches Tuvoli, a business-to-business charter platform
  • Sells 50% in SimCom to CAE for $85m
  • Sells N1 Engines to Honeywell.
  • 2018:
  • Buys majority stake in Reva, an air ambulance operator. Beekman Group a New York private equity firm keeps a minority stake.
  • Buys PrivateFly, the UK based online charter broker
  • Buys SimCom a US flight training company
  • Buys Sirio an operator & maintenance firm.
  • 2016:
  • Buys FlairJet a UK aircraft operator
  • 2013:
  • Buys Flexjet, Bombardier's fractional ownership company and places a $5.2bn order for up to 245 Bombardier bizjets
  • Resilience Capital and Directional buy Aerospace Parts International API
  • 2012:
  • Buys Sentient Jet – which includes Everest Fuel Management – a broker and the first company to offer jetcards
  • Launches N1 Engines
  • 2011:
  • Delivers first Nextant 400XT, the world‘s first FAA-certified remanufactured bizjet
  • 2010:
  • Launches brokerage Sojourn Aviation
  • 2009:
  • Buys Flight Options from HIG Investment
    (which acquired it from Raytheon in 2007) along with Resilience Capital
  • 2007:
  • Sells Mercury Air Services to Macquarie Infrastructure for $615m
  • Buys Constant Aviation with Resilience Capital as an investor
  • Launches Nextant Aviation
  • 2005:
  • Buys 25% stake in Mercury Air Centres an FBO business from Allied Capital.
  • 2003:
  • Sells stake in Flight Options to Raytheon
  • Establishes Directional Aviation Capital
  • 2002:
  • Merges Flight Options & Raytheon Air Travel
  • 1998:
  • Launches Flight Options, a fractional business jet company
  • 1990:
  • Launches Inertial Air Services
  • 1981:
  • Acquires Corporate Wings
Kenn Ricci G650
Kenn Ricci G650

Managing the business

Ricci says that Directional's strength comes from the managers that run each business. "Every company has its own CEO," he says. "We only get involved in three things: the strategic vision of the company – which can be based on monthly, or weekly meetings depending on the size of the business – capital decisions; and executive compensation."

Bonuses are based on return on capital invested. "Mike Silvestro [CEO of Flexjet] can't just buy a billion dollars of aircraft to grow revenues," says Ricci. He says the company has a mid-teen hurdle rate.

People who attend these meetings say they can be intellectually exhausting. "Kenn has a lot of qualities and one of these is definitely hiring great people," says one executive who has worked with him. "If you look at the quality of his team you have people like Mike Silvestro and Megan Wolf [Flexjet chief operating officer (COO)], Andrew Collins [CEO of Sentient] and other managers that any company would want."

The management team is a tight-knit group. Many brand CEOs have worked for Directional for many years. Silvestro was Ricci's college roommate and joined Flight Options in 2000. Moving around the group is common. David Davies, who became CEO of Constant Aviation in January 2020, has worked with Ricci since 1997 (starting at Flight Options, moving to Mercury, then returning to Nextant and Flight Options).

"It is a close group but it also extremely friendly and welcoming to new joiners," says Adam Twidell, CEO of charter broker PrivateFly, which was acquired in 2018. "I would say for me it was like joining a new rugby team; you are included from day one and instantly are made to feel part of the team –it was also similar to when I moved bases in the Air Force."

While it is close, it is not a fraternity. Senior female leaders include: Wolf at Flexjet, Elizabeth Ricci, CEO of Corporate Wings; Lou Ann Brookshire, CFO of Flexjet; Deb Perelman, chief legal counsel of Onesky Flight and Marine Eugène, MD of Flexjet Europe.

"It is a really exciting culture to join," says Eugène. "It is unique and very rare. When you visit the Flexjet head office you meet so many people who are so passionate about aviation and the company. You can tell it is different by the number of people who have worked for more than 20 years at the company."

European staff also say they have been impressed at how Directional has recognised the cultural differences between Europe and the US. This partly reflects Ricci's love of travelling. Each of his children have skipped eighth grade (age 13-14) to travel – he is one of a few business aviation executives to have visited North Korea.

Ricci and Rossi are also available for support at any time. "I would demonstrate this, but it is 5am," says Twidell. "But Kenn is always available for calls and also replies to emails quickly – not just from management but from everyone in the company."

When Directional Aviation was in talks about buying PrivateFly, Twidell researched the company by talking to Flexjet pilots at FBOs. "I would deliberately seek them and out and ask them about working for Flexjet," he says. "Pilots are often grumpy about employers – I know because I have been a grumpy pilot – but everyone I spoke to was always proud to work for Flexjet. They also always mentioned Kenn. They had a personal connection with him." This is also testament to Wolf, who joined Flight Options in 2003 and was Vice President of Owner Experience after the acquisition of Flexjet. When she became COO, Ricci said to her: "Megan, we need our pilots to be as happy as our owners are." Flight Options' pilots unionised during the years when Raytheon Travel Air owned the enterprise.

Upon resuming ownership and merging Flight Options' operations with Flexjet, the combined pilot group now flying under the Flexjet banner, voted to decertify the Teamsters' Union in 2018. Flexjet pilots now have a direct relationship with management without a union intermediary.

The union had opposed Flexjet's Red Label programme where crews are dedicated to each aircraft.

Each business is run as a separate one. While there are support sister companies, Ricci stresses that each business needs to "swim in its own lane" and not compete. Flexjet does offer some jet card programmes but only on specific aircraft models where Sentient Jet does not have cards. FXAIR, the new US brokerage business, does not compete with European-orientated PrivateFly.

Directional looks for companies that support each other or fill an unmet need in the private aviation market. Some are obvious: SimCom trains Flexjet pilots and Constant Aviation maintains some of Flexjet's aircraft. Others are more subtle.

When Directional bought Sentient Jet in 2012 it was able to put Sentient customers on underused Flight Options aircraft (Ricci also attempted to buy Marquis Jet by purchasing its debt at the same time). The group has used this 'keep-it-in-the-family' strategy in 2020 by allowing FXAIR, Sentient and PrivateFly onto older Flexjet aircraft that are no longer flying under fractional arrangements.

Choosing investments

Kenn Ricci Team G650

Ricci has been offered the opportunity to invest in other industries many times, but he prefers to use his expertise and stick to aviation (particularly business aviation).

"Directional is not a fund – we don't look to make returns by selling," says Ricci. It is happy to keep hold of profitable businesses but also sell when the price is right. It is happy to launch new businesses as well as acquire. This focus on growth is important to retain staff says Ricci: "One of the biggest things we do is give executives the opportunity to invest alongside us."

Directional typically invests up to $30m in each acquisition but can leverage that up with debt or other investors to $150m. Goldman Sachs Specialty Lending Group provided debt for Reva Air Ambulance.

It prefers to have a majority stake – or at least be the controlling shareholder – but also likes partnering with other investors especially where it can provide industry expertise. The three companies that generate the biggest dividends to Directional are: Flexjet; SimCom and Stonebriar and it has partners on all these.

One of its longest running co-investors is Resilience Capital Partners. Based in Cleveland, Ohio, Resilience's headquarters are a 20-minute drive from Directional. Founded in 2001 by Bassem Mansour and Steve Rosen, Resilience invested in Flight Options when Directional bought it in 2009. It also co-invested in Flexjet and SimCom. Resilience is also co-launching the Zanite SPAC with Ricci and Rosen as co-CEOs. Ricci has been an adviser to Resilience for many years.

Despite his experience with Raytheon, Ricci is also happy to form strategic joint-ventures. In 2019, Directional sold 50% of SimCom to CAE, the Canadian training company, for $85m. As part of the sale, Directional committed to a 15-year exclusive training services agreement with SimCom and CAE for Flexjet, Flight Options, Sirio, Nextant Aerospace and Corporate Wings. SimCom also bought five CAE 7000XR Series full-flight simulators and five CAE 400XR Series flight training devices.

Directional's investment in Stonebriar Commercial Finance is an outlier but a successful one. First, it has a minority – albeit meaningful stake. Second, Directional has exposure to a diversified range of assets and industries including mission critical rail, marine and manufacturing – although aviation is a strong focus making up more than 30% of Stonebriar's $3bn balance sheet. Ricci first became involved in aircraft finance working with Guggenheim Partners. Directional was a strategic advisor to Guggenheim and an anchor investor in the Guggenheim Aircraft Opportunity Fund headed by Nicholas Sandler.

At that time, Todd Boehly was President of Guggenheim Partners. In 2016, Boehly left to launch his own firm Eldridge. He later acquired a number of investments from Guggenheim.

Together with capital from Directional and Sandler, Eldridge acquired Guggenheim's aircraft financing business. The business was then merged with Eldridge's newly formed Stonebriar, with Ricci joining the board. Eldridge is also an investor alongside Directional in Flexjet and in Simcom. Sandler sits on both boards.

Directional is in the process of spinning off Tuvoli – a new business-to-business charter platform for brokers and operators – which it launched in 2019. Led by Greg Johnson, formerly chief information officer (CIO) of Flexjet and Sentient, Tuvoli is designed to make it easier to sell charter. Tuvoli has an innovative payment solution where brokers can put funds into a segregated air count – like an escrow account – where they are only released when the trip is completed. Tuvoli was able to test this by using Sentient Jet bookings.

Ricci is convinced that Tuvoli will grow but believes that Directional's ownership is holding it back. "We have incubated Tuvoli and are spinning it off because we know that operators believe it should be part of the wider industry." Tuvoli is also working on a sustainable aviation project for the industry.

Flexjet has recently launched a new sustainability programme – which goes beyond just carbon dioxide emissions. All owners' flights will be fully emissions-neutral, compensating for carbon dioxide emissions and also other non-carbon dioxide warming pollutants in aviation, such as water vapour, aerosol sulphate and nitrous oxides. This means it will offset an additional 300% on top of standard CO2 emissions. Ricci is also keen to keep growing Directional and is looking to add to the portfolio. This is on top of the SPAC that he is about to launch.

SPAC for the future

Kenn Ricci and Jeff Bezos - Living Legends of Aviation

"Everyone in business aviation knows Ricci," says one partner. "But he deserves greater recognition for his exceptional track record of growing businesses. This is partly because he is in Cleveland and not New York or LA, but also because he has always run private companies, so is less well known on Wall Street."
Until now. Zanite Acquisition – which is named after a rare crystal – floated in November on the Nasdaq exchange under the ticker ZNTEU.

Zanite is a SPAC or blank cheque company so can use the cash to buy any company, but its board is focused on emerging aviation technologies. Along with Ricci and Resilience's Rosen, Ronald Sugar, the former chair and CEO of Northrop Grunman, is senior strategic adviser. The other directors comprise Rossi; Larry Flynn, former CEO of Gulfstream; Gerald DeMuro, former CEO of BAE Systems; and John Veihmeyer, retired chairman of KPMG. Flynn has firsthand experience of Directional having led Gulfstream's sale of 50 aircraft to Flexjet in 2014. Flexjet negotiated the right to be the sole and exclusive fractional provider offering for the new G500 and G700.

Zanite is looking to identify a private company worth more than $750m. "As Directional, we typically have around $30m to invest in equity. With leverage we can make that up to around $100m or $150m," says Ricci. "There are private equity companies interested in several billion-dollar companies but there is a gap between what we do and what the large funds are doing. That is why we have filed for a SPAC – that is the area we are targeting."

Zanite will not compete with existing Directional Companies and Ricci is not looking at returning to FBOs. "We don't want to do the same thing again and these are exciting times in aviation," says Ricci. "We are looking at new areas like electric propulsion, sustainable aviation and other emerging technologies."

According to data company Refinitiv more than 200 have listed raising more than $66bn. Research from McKinsey & Co shows that SPACs led by industry experts outperform ones led by financial managers by 40%. McKinsey says that SPACs need managers with an "operational edge".

Ricci has clearly demonstrated that he has this edge with Directional and wants to do it again with Zanite Acquisition. "There are a lot of SPACs, but we are offering something very different," says Ricci. "Our strength is our industry knowledge. We are an inch-wide but a mile-deep."

Buying aircraft

If Directional had bought at list price, it would have spent more than $10bn over the past four decades.

In the past 40 years Directional Aviation has ordered aircraft worth more than $10bn at list price from Aerion, Bombardier, Embraer and Gulfstream. That was if they paid list price – they negotiate the best price for their fractional clients. No one would say they are the easiest people to sell aircraft to.

At NBAA-BACE in 2019 Flexjet placed a $1.4bn order with Embraer Executive Jets for 64 Praetors 500s, Praetor 600s and Phenom 300s worth $1.2bn. Later that day it was announced as launch fleet buyer for Gulfstream G700 – ordering 16 G700s worth $1.2bn. In 2015 it used the trade show to announce an order for 20 Challenger 350s from Bombardier and then became launch customer for Aerion's AS2 supersonic business jet with an order for 20 a few hours later.

These large fleet orders give manufacturers plan production years out. They also introduce their aircraft to prospective buyers. The bestselling aircraft in each category all had significant fleet orders at launch.

The downside for manufacturers is that Directional's team knows how to negotiate. The orders that are announced at tradeshows like EBACE and NBAA are more complicated than the press releases that are sent out. Flexjet typically reserves the right to switch to other types and change delivery dates.

It is also a patient buyer. At some air shows the orders being announced were ones the manufacturers had hoped to publicise the year before.

The team knows that price is not the only thing that matters. They focus on details like pilot training slots, parts and warranties. Ricci, for example, will ask for technical manuals and wiring diagrams before committing. This gives Constant Aviation, Flexjet's sister company and Flexjet's in-house maintenance department, the ability to maintain new aircraft rather than having to rely on the manufacturer's own facilities.

In the last few years manufacturers have been growing their service businesses fast. Some are trying to dominate maintenance. It is something that frustrates Ricci. "Frankly, it really agitated me," he says. "Some manufacturers expect you to pay millions for an aircraft and then charge you 10 times over for a part that they control. But this will hurt them in the long run."

This frustration led to Directional investing in N1 Engines – which specialised in parting out engines. "We purchased N1 to manage the aircraft engines within our fleets as a way of taking back control, but last year we sold it to Honeywell," says Ricci.

Ricci says that the manufacturers need to remember who the customer is. "If manufacturers keep doing this, it will drive people to fleet programmes. Because no individual owner is going to have the power to fight back," Ricci warns. "Fleet buyers are the only ones who can push back – and they will do this especially in tough times when manufacturers desperately have to sell aircraft."
If this happens, manufacturers will end up having even tougher negotiations with Ricci, Silvestro and Rossi.

A family dedicated to philanthropy: Kenn and Pam Ricci and family have donated large amounts to charity – including Notre Dame University, Indiana. Kenn and Pam have bequeathed an unrestricted $100m through an innovative Philanthropic Succession Partnership they created and to benefit cystic fibrosis charities.
Ricci Family at Notre Dame

Directional's 2020

Turning a challenging year into a record breaker

Kenn Ricci with group

"At the start of March, I was worried. I did wonder if this is could be the end of aviation as we know it," says Ricci. "So, we took drastic action. Having been through four recessions we knew what we had to do." This included a voluntary salary sacrifice and some job cuts at different businesses. "But six months later, this should turn out to be the best year in our company's history," says Ricci.

Fractional Flexjet, broker and jet card company Sentient Jet and international on-demand broker PrivateFly and its North American on-demand counterpart FXAIR all saw a rush of new customers who decided they no longer wanted to fly on airlines.

"We suddenly saw a record expansion in the Total Addressable Market," says Andrew Collins, CEO of Sentient Jet, one of the world's largest charter brokers and the first to offer a jet card. "We were able to put some messaging into the market that new consumers embraced – and it helped a lot," says Collins.

With more than 7,000 cardholders and a turnover of more than $300m a year, Sentient Jet typically sells between 4,500 and 6,500 hours of charter a month.
Between May and August Sentient Jet – whose cards start at $137,000 – sold $50m of cards to new buyers (and renewed another $50m). In October it was on track for another $40m.

"With wealth coming down in age and digital fluency going up, we also saw more customers booking digitally," says Collins.

PrivateFly managed to hit its record 2019 figures again in 2020, despite not seeing their US customers flying in Europe this year. "We did this by adding new clients," says Adam Twidell, CEO, PrivateFly. "Our team are really good at helping first-time fliers – explaining what to expect at the airport and taking away concerns like whether you are expected to tip the pilots. PrivateFly has always been really good at finding and nurturing new customers and it was our big strength this year"

Flexjet had to react quickly to be able to fly passengers during a pandemic.

"We responded by immediately implementing enhanced sanitation procedures and protocols to protect passengers and flight crews. We created Project Lift, an internal shuttle airline to move our crews around the country on our aircraft versus the airlines to protect them, their families, and our customers from exposure," says Mike Silvestro, CEO of Flexjet. "That and treating all our aircraft with Microshield 360 and implementing operational protocols with everyone's well-being as the priority has proven invaluable. I believe our quick actions in late March positioned us to have a very successful year." Microshield is an antimicrobial product that coats surfaces and stops the spread of bacteria and viruses. Constant Aviation is the exclusive aviation provider.

With Flexjet operating, the management team was then able to focus on demand. "It became very clear that private aviation had a distinct advantage versus commercial airlines to keep customers safer and more secure," says Silvestro. "This had an immediate positive impact for prospects who had the financial wherewithal to fly privately, but previously had chosen not to."

While the growth in new fliers has slowed – partly as Covid-19 returned – all three are optimistic about 2021. "At the close of Q3, we were encouraged to see pandemic-driven interest convert into Flexjet purchases, with new business up 10% compared with Q3 2019," says Silvestro. "Given that our programmes generally span three to five years, it tells us a lot more about how people are planning to travel longer into the future."

In the first six months of 2020, Flexjet had profits 13% higher than it originally forecasted (this does not include government grants). October bookings were three times the level in 2019.

All three businesses also continued to invest. "In the OneSky family we like to be counterintuitive at times, so we took some money off the table and pushed it into the marketplace," says Collins.

In August, Directional launched FXAIR a branded charter company. FXAIR uses pre-owned Flexjet aircraft, operated by Flexjet, but FXAIR is a separate company headed by Greg Slow, reporting to Collins.

Kenn Ricci speaking

"We had originally planned to launch FXAIR at the end of the fourth quarter, but have brought it forward now to meet demand. We do not want to miss out on a new generation of people moving to private aviation," says Collins as it launched. "We see it as a solution for a large number of people who maybe do not want to commit to a jet card or even just want to experience flying privately."

Even though it benefits from aircraft coming out of Flexjet's fractional programme (with existing ‘FX' registrations and tail numbers – which is where the name comes from), FXAIR is a significant investment.

It launched with access to a fleet of 12 Challenger 300s and five Global Express aircraft. Flexjet will operate all the aircraft for FXAIR. Based in New York, the charter company has 40 employees (18 of whom joined in the past year with the rest moving from PrivateFly US) and is looking for more.

FXAIR offers two core products. The first is simple on-demand charter bookable on an app, the second is its Aviator account that offers some benefits (including faster booking, free de-icing and catering). It costs $100,000 to open an Aviator account but this is fully refundable.

"For new fliers, any commitment like a membership is a real pain point," says Gregg Slow, president of FXAIR. "We want to make using the basic product as simple as possible while offering certain benefits with the Aviator account." Slow was Americas President at PrivateFly and before that worked at XOJET and NetJets.

He says that FXAIR aims to increase its access to a fleet of 25 Challengers, six Nextant 400XTs and five Global Express aircraft within the next two years. It also plans to add Phenom 300s and additional large cabin aircraft as demand grows. As well as retired Flexjet aircraft, FXAIR is also offering charter on aircraft flown by other operators.

"FXAIR is a clean-sheet design for business aviation. In the last few months, we have seen increasing demand from people who want to fly privately," says Slow. "They may be new to business aviation, but they want a premium product and are focused on safety, consistency and stability."
With online mobile booking, an app and payments technology (built using Directional sister company Tuvoli's software), FXAIR is designed to make booking flights very simple. The company is also offering a $31,900 capped one-way transcontinental flight for Aviator programme members. It will also help customers book flights on aircraft with other operators.

FXAIR replaces PrivateFly in the US, but PrivateFly will continue to offer international on-demand charter. "At Sentient we often talk to people who do not have much experience of private aviation and the great thing is now they can try a high-quality product with FXAIR," says Collins.

Slow adds: "The five key business aviation products are charter, premium charter (or what people have referred to as branded charter), jet cards, fractional ownership and whole aircraft ownership. Directional is the only private aviation company that offers all of these products."

PrivateFly also grew its team – picking up experienced people from brokers cutting staff – and launching a jet card and a charter account.

"This is one of the examples of the advantage of being part of the Directional Aviation group," says Twidell. "People talk about injections of capital but really it injected us with the confidence to go for this."

Flexjet continued its European expansion. But Silvestro is also confident about continuing to grow in the US. "We believe there are significant opportunities for growth and we are primed to capitalise on them," says Silvestro. "The pandemic has exposed a lot of people to private aviation who might never have tried it under normal circumstances and this has been a positive for us in what has been a challenging year."

Ricci is not triumphant. Some of Directional's businesses have had very tough years. Reva Air Ambulance, typically gets 60% of its sales from repatriating sick cruise ship passengers. With cruise ships empty, it has been forced to has cut its fleet and staff. "It has been tough for Reva, but it is an opportunity to retrench and to focus on the key things," says Ricci.

SimCom has been hit by pilot lay-offs and because it is harder to run simulator sessions back-to-back due to cleaning. Constant Aviation, the maintenance business, has also had a slower year after several years of rapid growth.

"This has been by far the most difficult time to manage a company," says Ricci, the author of the bestselling business book Management by Trust. "At times there was no way to be strategic, you could only be tactical and manage the situation presented."

Flexjet Europe: 'It has been a very strange year'

2020 proved a challenging year to launch in Europe

Operations Control Center

"It has been a very strange year," says Marine Eugène, MD, Flexjet Europe. "It has been a very strange time to launch in Europe. Back in the Spring we genuinely thought we would be delaying until 2021. But in the early Summer we saw a lot of vitality in the market."

Eugène joined Flexjet in 2019 to work on the project after 15 years at NetJets Europe. Flexjet Europe opened Flexjet House in London's Mayfair, a European Tactical Control Centre in England and an aircraft maintenance facility in Milan in 2019.

"We were all geared up for launch at the start of this year. We had built the website, hired salespeople and built the funnel so when suddenly we started getting people approaching us, we were in a good place to capitalise," says Eugène. "We have seen people come to us who owned aircraft, people already using our direct competitors and new fliers who wanted to fly on Flexjet."

In November Flexjet became the launch customer of Embraer's Praetor 600. Capable of flying 4,000 miles, it can fly without stops from Paris to New York or London to Dubai. Praetors were part of Flexjet's $1.4bn order for Embraer aircraft which was announced in October 2019. She says they are only seeing anecdotal corporate demand at the moment. But she is confident that it will return.

"It is still going to be a very tough winter in Europe, but we know that a vaccine is on the way and we want to be there ready for the upturn," says Eugène. "People are going to have travel more than they did before to rebuild their relationships, which they have relied on in 2020, and the pressure is going to be on C-Suite executives to increase their prescience. They are going to have to visit suppliers and customers and we need to be ready for them."

"We felt there was a window of opportunity, so went for it," adds Eugène: "As everyone knows when Kenn sees a window of opportunity he goes for it."

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