NetJets arrives at NBAA amid record demand that led the company this summer to temporarily “pause” sales of shares and leases for the Embraer Phenom 300 and Cessna Citation XLS light jets and all jet cards, while accelerating its fleet expansion efforts to meet the surge in business. “This year we’re taking more than 50 [new jets] and more than 60 in 2022,” said NetJets president of sales, marketing, and service Patrick Gallagher.
He called the sales halts “proactive measures to protect the service we're known for and our customers expect.” Gallagher further offered no timeframe for ending the sales suspensions.
The new jets, some $2.5 billion worth, will include the Bombardier Global 7500, joining the fleet this year, and the Global 5500 next year. Otherwise, the mix will reflect the ratios of its current fleet of more than 10 Bombardier, Cessna Citation, Embraer, and Gulfstream models, spanning the light to ultra-long-range categories.
Thrilled at the return of NBAA-BACE’s physical gathering format, Gallagher views the 2021 meet-up as the perfect reflection of business aviation’s dramatic post-pandemic recovery. “Everybody in the industry coming together is emblematic of what we've seen post-Covid—a resurgence in demand for both business and leisure travel as people try to reconnect in places that mean the most to them,” he said. “There are few better ways to do that now than through private aviation.”
NetJets has no aircraft on the NBAA-BACE display ramp this week at Henderson Executive Airport, though the current lift shortage isn’t the reason. “We’ve never had our own presence at the static display,” Gallagher said. “We’ve partnered with manufacturers when we’ve introduced new aircraft, for example a Global 6000 with Bombardier, or a Citation Latitude within the Textron footprint.”
At its Las Vegas Convention Center exhibit (Booth 1471), NetJets is showcasing its own programs and those of its associated Berkshire Hathaway-owned brands, including aircraft management and charter powerhouse Executive Jet Management and aircraft transactions brokerage QS Partners. (QS stands for “quarter share,” NetJets’s sales pitch when it launched the shared-ownership concept in 1986, and also the aircraft registration number suffix on its U.S.-based fleet.)
The coming Globals are the only noteworthy program updates on this side of the pond, but NetJets Europe this year introduced a transatlantic membership card for the European market, where seasonal fluctuations in charter rates can vary as much as 50 percent versus the 5 to 7 percent fluctuations between peak and lowest-demand months in the U.S.
Providing discounts for transatlantic flights “to entice” new market entrants drawn by the off-peak pricing, NetJets “found that it created a lot of interest with prospects,” but “when people really dug in and learned about the different product offerings,” most ultimately bought regular jet cards, Gallagher said.
Meanwhile, despite the sales pauses, business continues to grow as the number of hours customers are flying and buying “has increased significantly this year compared not just to 2020 but to 2019,” the previous record year, according to Gallagher.
“Fractional remains our bread and butter,” he said, with about 75 percent of all occupied hours flown for fractional shareholders.“That hasn't materially changed in many, many years,” Gallagher said, calling its jet cards “a gateway” into the program. “That being said,” he added, “we see a significant number of card customers graduating into fractional ownership right now.”
NetJets is now conducting internal research to determine exactly how many owners came into the program through its jet cards. “That seems like an easy question to answer, but sometimes it’s a little more difficult to track through 10 years of their relationship,” Gallagher said, especially when a purchaser buys a jet card and subsequently forms an LLC or other structure to buy a share. “We’re doing a deep dive to look at the actual numbers. My hypothesis is that it’s really a lot.”
The company has also ramped up its sustainability initiatives, launching a global sustainability program a year ago, and this year expanding its Blue Skies optional carbon offset program for customers. It is also investing in WasteFuel, a company that can convert municipal waste into sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), and committing to buying $100 million worth of its SAF over the next decade.
With some 800 aircraft, NetJets remains the world’s largest business jet operator, enjoying what Gallagher calls “a wide competitive moat” for protection. But major access provider challengers such as Directional Aviation (Flexjet, Sentient Jet, PrivateFly); Vista Group (VistaJet, XO); and Wheels Up continue to grow, using private equity, SPAC, and IPO funding to make investments NetJets’ parent Berkshire Hathaway might be unwilling to match. How does NetJets see the access marketplace evolving in this competitive environment?
“Market share really isn’t something that we concern ourselves with,” said Gallagher. “We focus every day on setting the bar for safety and service in our industry and taking care of our people. If we continue to do those things exceptionally well, the market share will continue to take care of itself.”
Meanwhile, business aviation activity is “coming back to levels nobody in the industry would have expected—it’s really quite staggering,” Gallagher said. But the record utilization and staffing challenges are “taxing the air travel infrastructure in ways we haven’t seen in years,” he added. “Everything from fueling and ramp space to catering and ground transportation are being pushed to their limits in many locations.”