Room at the top

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 Zetta Jet Founder and Managing Director Geoffery Cassidy talks with Anthony Harrington

Zetta Jet’s stated mission is to transform the ultra-premium end of the luxury charter market by delivering a unique combination of unmatched service excellence, state-of-the-art long-range jets and a huge focus on delivering a top-quality service for the most discerning (and wealthiest) people on the planet.

In so doing, as the company’s managing director, Geoffery Cassidy notes, Zetta Jet has stood the traditional air charter market business model on its head. Instead of seeking to broaden the base of the air charter market by competing on price and trying to attract more and more “first-time private fliers” to the market, it has unashamedly moved its pricing model up into the stratospheric premium market. There is virtually no chance that somebody who might be tempted to skip flying scheduled because they’ve been tempted by an ultra-low priced ‘empty leg’ flight on a light jet, will ever seriously contemplate emptying their pockets for a one-off seat on a Zetta Jet Global 6000.

Of course, they could if they wanted, and Zetta would probably be happy to fly them, but if you count your pennies a Zetta Jet seat would probably cost you a factor of x more than you’d make in a year. This really is a service primarily aimed at the ultra-high net worth market.

The company started out in August 2015 with a single Global 6000. Today it has 12 Global 6000s and in November, at the 2016 NBAA, it announced an order for four Challenger 650s. The aircraft are actually being acquired by China’s Minsheng Financial Leasing and will be leased back to Zetta Jet. The 650 is a 4000 nautical mile aircraft, as against the Global 6000’s range of 6,000 nm, but claims the widest cabin in its class, and the interiors are each being individually designed to be the height of luxury.

“Most operators, when they buy more than one aircraft of a certain type tend to standardise the layouts. From their standpoint this allows them to deliver a consistent, standardised service and makes it irrelevant which aircraft is available at any point in time,” Cassidy comments.

Instead, Zetta Jet has gone in the diametrically opposite direction. Each of its Globals has a unique design. This enables the operator to achieve a far tighter match to each client’s requirements. “Some people like a dark wood interior. Some like light wood. Some like a futurist design, while some like a very traditional approach. We’ve tried to cover as many of the options as we can, so that the aircraft is as close to what they would want from their own aircraft as possible,” he notes.

So far, all the signs are that the approach is succeeding handsomely. “In business terms, we are doing 30% to 40% more business than we had anticipated. We are also the only Part 135 operator cleared to conduct polar flights. On a trip like Beijing to Montreal, being able to fly a direct polar route enables us to fly direct and to cut a significant amount of time out of the trip,” Cassidy adds.

The idea to target the very top end of the charter market came out of what Cassidy terms “a lifetime in aviation”. “My father owned and operated planes and I was brought up with aviation as an everyday fact. I started a law degree when I finished school but ended up taking a career in aviation, running my own aircraft management company,” he remembers. The company looked after six jets owned by six different customers, and Cassidy added a cargo company to his portfolio with Boeing 737s’.

The two businesses were doing well, but looking at the charter market, it was clear to Cassidy that the major player in the market was more focused on the commodity middle end of the market and was heavily engaged in a volume play. In his view, too, the competitor’s efforts to expand its business in the Asian and North American markets were not proving particularly fruitful.

In short, he saw a clear gap in the market for a company willing to set out its stall with the ultimate, premium traveller in mind. Sales, so far, have proved the accuracy of this insight. Zetta Jet is currently achieving more than 100 hours a month across its fleet, which, when you consider the premium price it charges, is very satisfactory.

“Our biggest competition comes not from the other major player in the charter market, but from those major commercial airlines, like Etihad, Qatar and Singapore Airlines who have outfitted a few of their aircraft with ultra- luxury first class suites, designed to attract top executives who would normally fly private.

“We aim to show these executives that private still has the edge both in terms of the luxuriousness of the interior and the quality of the service provided. And of course, because they arrive at a luxury FBO, instead of being decanted into the general travelling public at a mainstream airport,” Cassidy notes.

Today, 60% of Zetta Jet’s sales are to North America and Europe, and of that percentage, a further 60% is wholesale, coming direct from brokers who are looking to achieve the best possible experience for their most discerning and demanding clients. “The brokers like us because they know that we can deliver a luxury experience, and they know, too, that we will not attempt to pinch their clients. They can’t be that confident of honest behaviour from some other operators in the charter market,” Cassidy says.

In the fifteen months or so that the company has been operating, it has yet to have a single staff member resign – though a few have had to be gently eased out as not being up to the high standards demanded. “This success is all about the brand image and the ethos that we have been able to establish. However, we are far from complacent. Keeping the company in the position to deliver the highest standards of service, day in and day out, is a constant challenge,” Cassidy observes.

One area where the company has few difficulties is when it comes to hiring pilots. Every pilot wants to be able to add a significant number of hours on a Global 6000 or a Challenger 650 to their résumé. Plus, Zetta Jet customers are the ultimate globetrotters, heading for exotic destinations around the world. When Zetta Jet has an opening for pilots it gets swamped with applications.

So how was a relatively new player able to convince a funder like Minsheng to back its play? The answer lies partly in the deep network of contacts that Cassidy and his partners have in Singapore and across Asia, and partly due to the fact that we have set out and continued to not only deliver but outperform our targets. “Minsheng wants to be the dominant finance leasing house on the planet. For any finance house with this target, large business jets constitute a very appealing business to be in!” he concludes.