NetJets is the world’s leading business aviation company. Launched in Europe in 1996 and backed by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, the Fractional Ownership Programme provides unmatched freedom and flexibility – all the advantages of owning a private jet, with none of the hassle. In less than two decades, it has proven to be hugely popular with individuals and businesses looking to enhance productivity, work more efficiently, and relax more effectively. We’re happy to sit down with Pat Gallagher, EVP of Sales and Marketing, and talk about the company’s partnership with Formula 1, the private aviation sector and what’s next in line for this industry.
Pat, what was the initial step towards the beginning of the partnership with Mercedes F1?
For several years, NetJets has hosted customer hospitality at the Monaco Grand Prix. The past two years, our customers were treated with an appearance by Nico Rosberg. That relationship connected us with the Mercedes AMG Petronas team, who was keen to utilise private aviation in an efficient way to move drivers, engineers and other team members between races.
So what motivated you to enter into a partnership with Mercedes in particular?
In any category we seek to align with the very best brands and ambassadors. When we sought to expand our presence in Formula 1, Mercedes quickly rose to the top not just because they are at the pinnacle of the sport, but because we found them to be so like-minded in their focus on safety and innovation.
In your opinion, which factors would encourage other private aviation companies to start relationships with Formula 1 teams?
I can’t speak to why other private aviation companies may or may not want to enter the sport, however for NetJets, the Global audience of Formula 1 is obviously appealing given our worldwide operations. With the ambitious growth expectations for the sport in the US, it becomes even more appealing given that America represents by far the largest market for business jets.
The industry continues to gain steam and we continue to gain market share.
How do you see the future of partnerships between private aviation and Formula 1?
The travel demands on the teams are likely to increase, creating even more opportunities for NetJets with its global capabilities and industry-leading reputation. But it is not just the teams which could benefit from NetJets. Our fellow sponsors are also traveling between hard-to-get-to locations and we are keen to introduce them to NetJets.
How is the private aviation sector doing at the moment compared to how things were a few years ago?
Our business is quite healthy. The industry continues to gain steam and we continue to gain market share. Market conditions a few years ago were not so friendly and we took that as an opportunity to widen our competitive moat by reinvesting in our business with new technology, new aircraft and enhanced safety protocols while others were struggling just to remain solvent.
Have you noticed any new trends, tendencies of clients, new strong or rising markets?
With the improvement in the global economy, and particularly in the US, we are seeing a lot of new entrants who are aggressively looking to bring new customers into the space by drawing them out of commercial airlines. There are a lot of companies trying to “democratise” private aviation or become the Netflix or Uber of private jet business travel. Ironically, when Uber was getting started, they sought to be the NetJets of car services. With so many start-ups looking to bring the industry to a wider audience via lower prices, consumers should be very careful to understand exactly who they are flying with. Who owns the plane? Who holds the insurance and how much? Who maintains the aircraft? Who employs and trains the pilots? Regulations in private aviation are not as stringent as commercial, so buyers need to be diligent.
Does social media have a big role now in your sector? If so, in what way?
Our social media strategy is largely about brand awareness among an aspirational audience. Customer engagement and commerce via social media in our industry is not what it is in consumer packaged goods or retail brand. With a focus more so on showcasing our brand, we have wonderful content on our social channels that truly shows the lifestyle of NetJets and appeals to aviation enthusiasts.
In terms of technology, what is there to look forward to in the coming years for private aviation?
Aircraft design is always of most interest. There are some exciting large cabin jets coming down the pike, but we aren’t just looking at big new jets, we look at technology to enhance other aspects of the experience. We are testing the very latest in in-flight Wi-Fi on some of our largest jets because connectivity is becoming increasingly important. We are using technology to improve our supply chain and network efficiencies to ensure that our customers have not had to sacrifice service as we have scaled from one aircraft to more than 700 in our fleet. Technology enables us to understand customer preferences, getting their catering order just right and make sure that they can watch the latest TV shows and movies on board their jet.
What are you mostly focused on today at NetJets in general? Any big plans for the near future?
Just as when we opened our doors in 1964, safety is our number one focus at NetJets. That will never change. I mentioned earlier how technology impacts so much of our customers’ experiences, but nowhere is innovation more important to NetJets than in the area of safety. We have invested very heavily in our training programs, in-flight data monitoring, and software that predicts pilot alertness based on schedules and time zones crossed. We pride ourselves on being a luxury service provider, but the greatest luxury that we can provide is the highest degree of safety.