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View from the cockpit

Release date:
April 2023
GlobeAir’s CEO and founder, Bernhard Fragner, on his flightpath to being one of the first movers in the air taxi industry, the changing passenger demographic and why he can’t get enough of the smell of jet fuel 


You established GlobeAir in 2007. What led you to start a private jet charter company?


I always had an interest in aviation, ever since my teenage years, but it wasn’t until later in life when I started working (as an engineer) that I got chatting to three colleagues who had just completed their pilot training. It piqued my interest and in 1996 I decided to get my private pilot licence (PPL). At the time the job I had involved plenty of travel around Eastern Europe, so I was constantly on the go. I would use a small aircraft from my flying club to fly back and forth between jobs, but it wasn’t particularly efficient as the weather often restricted when and where I could fly. So, I decided to get my commercial pilot’s licence and alongside five friends invested in a shared business jet to fly ourselves and friends around in.Then after 9/11, the US Government provided funds to support the research and development of a Small Aircraft Transport System (SATS) to facilitate air travel between small airports using small aircraft instead of large commercial passenger jets, which were deemed as being at greater risk of attack. Several big players were engaged in this concept of developing an air taxi service, including Microsoft. I got involved and ultimately that led to the evolution of GlobeAir as a private jet charter business offering on-demand flights. 


How is business faring currently?


In 2022, we recorded more than 15,000 flights and we’re looking forward to similar aircraft movements this year. Greater London is a key market and although we saw a drop in this market following Brexit and Covid, it’s coming back fully now. The Swiss market is also very strong for us, particularly flights between Geneva and Zurich. Bookings have been stable through the first few months of the year and similarly to last year we are expecting another busy summer season. However, as an industry collectively we need to manage the skills shortage and threat of strikes more efficiently than last summer. And while the latter end of the year might see a slight cooling off in terms of passenger traffic with rising costs and interest rates likely to impact demand, our experience shows that demand for smaller jets (which we operate) will remain higher than large jets, as they offer both a time and cost-effective solution for business travellers. 


How many aircraft do you have in your fleet?


Currently we have 21 Citation Mustangs. Seating four passengers comfortably, it’s the perfect aircraft for short trips throughout Europe. Its size also makes it possible to land at smaller airports and runways, such as London City, Engadin in St-Moritz or Lugano in Switzerland. 


Where is your main base?


We operate a floating base concept, dictated by wherever the business is. Currently most of our fleet is based in London, Paris, Geneva and Zurich but we are also seeing growth in the Eastern European market. In 2022 we served 388 different airports. 


Have you seen a shift in your passenger demographic over the last couple of years?


We are increasingly seeing a younger passenger demographic, most of them born in the late 80s and early 90s. As a result of Covid and travel restrictions many of our new customers who would previously have flown business class now want to use their time more efficiently and are after a more personalised experience. Passengers travelling with pets is also a booming market. In 2022, 42% of our flights were passengers travelling with their pets. 


How are you embracing sustainability within your operations?


We have partnered with carbon-connect to provide customers with the opportunity to offset the CO2 emissions connected to their flights. We are also seeing increasing interest in sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), although we have yet to refuel with it. Cost and availability are the prohibitive factors here.In terms of our own business practices, we have also gone paperless where possible in the office and use glass bottles rather than plastic. We are also converting our ground vehicles to an electric fleet.


How important is your relationship with the FBOs and airports you serve?


We work closely with our airport partners. They are an important part of the value chain as they provide the first and last impression for customers. We are seeing an increase in consolidations in this sector with companies such as Signature and Aviapartner expanding their network. 


How do you benefit from your relationship with Air bp?


We’ve been working together pretty much since we started operations. For such a large corporation the flexibility and level of personalised customer service we receive is impressive. The team at Air bp is always ready to go the extra mile and to work through any challenges that arise to find a workable solution. We are also working together to explore our options for refuelling with SAF, whether it’s through a physical supply or book and claim.  


What has been the highlight of your career so far?


It’s difficult to pick one pivotal moment, but I guess seeing how GlobeAir has succeeded to date is a key highlight. When I was laying the foundations for the business back in 2005 there were thousands of air taxi concepts out there and some really strong players. But we are now one of Europe’s leading private jet charter operators and continue to go from strength to strength. One of the key elements of our success was the backing of strong investors in the early days. And because of the Lehman Brothers collapsing the year after we launched, we had to learn to be lean and really focus on costs from the beginning. 


Is there anything you would have done differently?


If I had my time again, I would invest much earlier in a senior leadership team. When you’re starting up it’s natural to not want to let go and take on the responsibility for everything. I’m fortunate to have a strong leadership team in place now, but I could have done with that much earlier on. 


What is it you love about being involved in aviation?


As an engineer it never fails to amaze me that human beings have developed and continue to evolve technologies that enable us to take to the skies and travel around the world. When I’m flying, whether it’s as a pilot or a passenger I like to just look at the world down below and take it all in. And it might sound strange, but I can’t get enough of the smell of jet fuel...


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