The cost is much higher compared to first class on commercial airlines, but more and more wealthy people, such as businesspeople, prefer to rent private jets and helicopters for their travels either within Greece or to nearby European destinations.
So is this a sign of the times? Quite possibly, as market participants explain, given that due to the pandemic, the hyper-transmissibility of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, strict safety measures and sudden flight cancellations, private jet travel is synonymous with maximum safety, health and productivity.
The shift to private air travel is also a result of the increase in private wealth amid the pandemic. It is estimated that in the last two years the global wealth of billionaires has increased by about 3.5 trillion euros, while in Greece the number of millionaires is 72,000, according to a report by Credit Suisse. With these numbers in mind, it becomes clear why most companies around the world are unable to serve the increased demand, which is also supplied by Greece, where demand for private flights to and from the country have surged.
Greece is one of those European countries where flights with private planes multiplied in 2021 compared to 2019, a trend that is projected to continue this year as well. Indicative of the particularly high demand for private transportation is that, last year, the VIP lounge at Athens International Airport exceeded its capacity several times.
One of the companies that have benefited from the great global turn to private flights is NetJets, an American private jet firm founded in 1964 and now owned by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway. The company is the oldest and largest private jet operator with a fleet of 760 aircraft, offering shared ownership of private business jets.
As NetJets executives told Kathimerini, the demand for private travel is unprecedented. “In 2020 we had three times the number of customers, compared to every other year. In Europe, the daily volume of flights is higher, compared to pre-pandemic levels, and we estimate that this performance will continue,” they said.
Athens has secured its place in a club of European cities where the highest demand for private flights is recorded. “In Europe, the highest demand for [private] charter flights is in London, Paris, Nice, Geneva, Palma de Mallorca, Zurich, Ibiza, Milan, Amsterdam and Athens.” This list is constantly changing and expanding. For example, in the winter, NetJets were in high demand for travel to traditional ski destinations such as Chamonix-Mont Blanc, Geneva and Val-d’Isere.
According to NetJets, in the last quarter of 2021, there were thousands of flights to and from the “very active airport” of Athens. “During this period, Corfu, Iraklio, Kefalonia, Rhodes, Kos and Paros were the most popular island destinations for flights with private jets, while Preveza also recorded particularly strong demand. At the moment, Greece is the eighth most active country in Europe in terms of chartered private flights, recording an increase of 55%, compared to 2019,” the company says.
With the demand for private air travel expected to continue this year, NetJets is investing about $2.5 billion to receive 100 new aircraft by the end of 2022. “We recently announced a $1.2 billion investment with Brazilian Embraer to purchase 100 Phenom 300E aircraft, further expanding NetJets’ global fleet.” For flights to Europe, the American company plans to add to its fleet one of the most sought-after aircraft, the Bombardier Challenger 650, which has a capacity of up to 12 passengers and a range of 4,000 nautical miles (7,400 km).
A Greek aviation executive told Kathimerini that private jets have the role of air taxis for high-income individuals seeking flexibility and increased health safety. The demand for private flights is unprecedented, having significantly exceeded 2019 levels. The increased demand for private flights departing and landing in Greece is also attributed to the purchase of homes by wealthy foreigners, such as Arabs and Russians, on the Athens Riviera, or at one of the major tourist destinations in the country. The high demand is also evident in the fact that, recently, one of the largest Greek companies for the maintenance and repair of helicopters expanded its helipad by about 5,000 sq.m. It is noted that the cost of a flight (one-way) from Athens to London with a private jet ranges from 18,000 to 20,000 euros, while the return fare, which is usually slightly increased, depends on when the client will depart.