In the future, some observers believe, commercial airlines will continue to offer long-haul services, but some of their passengers will connect with a new generation of microjets operated by private charter companies to complete short-haul legs of their trips.
George Khairallah, president of New York-based BusinessJet Class, is prepared for that day. His company has launched a GDS for private aircraft charters.
Launched in September, the Web-based BusinessJet Class is in use on about 2,500 travel agent desktops. Among its subscribers is Valerie Wilson Travel, the upscale New York agency.
Travel agents undergo training on both how to use it generally, a one-hour session -- and, more important and more complex, how to sell the product; that usually requires two to three hours. This is not a low-fare search, Khairallah said. You have to understand the customers needs.
Agents dont pay to use the system and can work either on a commission or net-rate basis. BusinessJet Class, which has four levels of participation for operators, derives most of its income from markups.
Private charters are a much different animal from commercial flights. They dont file fares and schedules. They have hourly rates. Some negotiate deals with professional sports teams to provide transportation for a season.
Often, Khairallah said, private charter customers are hit with unanticipated costs: An operator may have miscalculated the headwinds on a particular route, for example, so the flight is longer than expected. An aircraft may encounter high fees at an international airport. Inclement weather can produce de-icing fees.
BusinessJet Class takes some of the headache out of booking private charters by providing a guaranteed total rate. It takes account of all the variables over a year and comes up with a pricing formula.
If the total price is lower than what a carrier expects, we pay the difference, Khairallah said. If you are a small operator and have two airplanes your risk is very high. But we have 570. The company adjusts a half-percent for risk that is spread over all the operations.
Booking on the system is a fairly simple process. Since many operators use small airports that are off the radar of commercial craft, the agent can simply enter a Zip code, and the system will display nearby options. It will match up available (i.e., close at hand) and appropriate aircraft for the mission. It will not, for example, display an eight-seat aircraft for a 15-passenger booking.
The agent can click on a particular aircraft to view a pop-up of the aircrafts exterior and interior. For now, hotel, car rental and other trip-related information must be manually input into the remarks section of the BusinessJet PNR. But Khairallah is hoping to build interactivity with traditional GDSs to automate that function.
BusinessJet Class is working to roll out another feature in a couple of months: the ability to display both private jet options and first class seat availability on commercial flights. The goal is not to compare but to combine.
Khairallah said one European carrier already is working with a private charter company on a route where the connection time on commercial flights is several hours long.
Most of the market for private jet charters today are the senior executives whose time is so expensive that its worthwhile to pay several thousand dollars to cut down on transportation time. But thats going to change in a couple of years, Khairallah said, with the advent of new microjets that cost much less to operate than the current crop of private jets.
That could bring the price of private charters low enough for a companys sales staff, and that represents a giant market, he said.