General aviation’s peak travel season is upon us, which means exciting international holiday travels for private aircraft owners. Some of the most popular international holiday itineraries include the adrenaline rush of speeding down a snow-capped mountain with your family and friends.
Ski trips are often to the famous slopes of Whistler BC in Canada, the Swiss Alps, and picturesque Chamonix, France. Then, when they are ready to warm up, private aircraft descend to destinations with beautiful tropical beaches, warm ocean breezes and swaying palm trees – synonymous with Cabo San Lucas in Mexico, Grace Bay in Turks and Caicos, or the ultra-relaxing warm sandy beaches of Belize.
Those trips are sometimes followed by, celebrating the New Year in fantastic international destinations on different continents! Rather than watching the fireworks on television, travelers choose to be part of the magnificent New Year’s Eve celebrations in global hot spots such as the city center of Hong Kong, the seaside Opera House of Sydney in Australia, and for some the celebration is just for 2 in a quiet over-water bungalow in the Indian Ocean.
With global private aviation travel, the destination possibilities are endless, and the trips can be wonderfully exciting. For aircraft operators, however, this implies a significant level of international logistical and regulatory expertise. For that reason, many operators turn to an international service provider (ISP) for expert international trip support.
Partnering with an ISP
Planning an international trip becomes a partnership between an international travel expert and its customer – in this case, the aircraft operator. Often, the role and relationship of an ISP is described as “to become an extension of the customer’s own flight department.” Every country, and even different airports within the same country, has unique regulatory processes, procedures and requirements for arriving private aircraft and its passengers. And those regulations can change dynamically, so they could be different from your last trip to that same destination.
International trip experts will know those regulatory changes, which brings multifaceted benefits to partnering with an ISP. Those benefits span across the service experiences of the aircraft operators, passengers, pilots, and flight department team members.
The value of an ISP’s knowledge of the logistical and regulatory requirements translates into the best possible service, safety, and operational excellence for all parties involved, including the local vendors on the ground supporting the needs of the passengers and aircraft.
The value of working with an international trip planning expert comes in many forms. ISPs can perform some – or all – of the trip coordination for the flight. The customer decides the level of support needed to customize their support for any given flight.
The range of services an ISP can provide includes the regulatory requirements related to overflight and landing permits, customs and immigration documents coordination, and any other uniquely required paperwork and insight into the fees subject to the aircraft and passenger’s arrival to a specific country and its airports.
On the logistics side, services include support of the aircraft, pilot and passengers. Although some of these resources are common ones like catering, ground transportation, and hotel reservations, other services needed may call for an elevated level of expertise when traveling internationally, including the safety and security of the passengers and aircraft, health and wellness information and advisories, flight planning and weather briefings when unusual conditions are likely, ground handling, language translation for the passengers and crew members, fuel procurement, and additional air transportation services within a particular country.
International experts either have their own team members on the ground or strong partner relationships with local vendors and other service providers. Leveraging their expertise can alleviate considerable extra planning efforts for flight departments and pilots, along with concerns about service delivery capabilities of unfamiliar vendors. Relying on an ISP even reduces the cost of some services because they often have preferred pricing due to their economies of scale.
What services to expect in different regions
North America. You can typically find a dedicated GA terminal and/or FBO with clean, comfortable facilities, modern amenities and 1st-class service that lives up to the high standards expected across Canada, the US and Mexico.
Central and South America, and the Caribbean. Services vary across this region. In the well-traveled destinations, you can expect a dedicated GA terminal and/or FBO similar to those available in North America. However, in smaller and/or less-traveled destinations, they may or may not have a dedicated facility, and expect less than modern amenities. Having international trip planning support can assist with the overall experience and comfort of both passengers and crew members.
Europe and Russia. Most of Europe is heavily traveled by GA and will have a dedicated
terminal and/or FBO. Here, 1st-class service and modern facilities and amenities are common. Some less-traveled locations across this region will be more basic in their facility and/or amenities, although service standards are often quite good throughout the region.
Africa. Facilities and service across this region can be unpredictable, although it has continued to improve over the past decade. As with the other regions, well-traveled destinations offer better facilities, amenities, and service. The use of an ISP can help navigate and provide more efficiency and comfort when traveling in this continent.
Asia/Pacific. This region is highly diverse. When speaking about the PAC/RIM and Australia/Oceania, expect a dedicated GA terminal and/or FBO with world class services. The same can be said for the Middle East, as some of the nicest FBOs and best services in the world are in the Arab world. Japan is exceptional as well. Many of the Southeast Asia locations are still working to gain a better understanding of business aviation.
Destinations such as Thailand, Laos, and Cambodia are all growing markets, so it will take time to start seeing facilities in these locations, but partnering with an international expert can help navigate through the challenges. India provides services throughout the country even at military airfields, although there may or may not be a physical facility.
China continues to grow quickly with increased traffic, and dedicated GA terminals and/or FBOs can be found in all the well-traveled destinations. Noteworthy, travel in the Asia/PAC region is expensive regardless of quality, especially in places like Japan.
“We’re committed to continuing to look for opportunities to improve our customers’ experience, whether it be new facilities, people, or systems,” declares Universal Weather and Aviation Chairman Greg Evans.
“That can be in the form of multiple models, from physical locations with full-service FBOs, dedicated GA terminals and ground handling agents we can send to smaller remote airports, to dedicated concierge agents who serve as an extension of our trip support teams on the ground at highly-congested, high-risk and stress airports.”
International Trip Planning Services (ITPS) has been around about a decade now, and Chief Operations Officer Phil Linebaugh has been leading the organization about the same time with a passion to drive a corporate culture focused on relationships.
He stresses that relationships are everything. Placing the highest emphasis on valuing and creating one-on-one relationships with the company’s clients, handlers, and everyone they partner with around the globe is how they have built a successful brand.
As ITPS continues to grow, the development is purposefully managed so as not to lose that one-on-one high touch relationship with its stakeholders. Proactive solicitation of feedback from clients is done in a post trip assessment where the entire trip is personally reviewed with clients, which strengthens the relationship and allows for continuous improvement of service delivery. In 2018, ITPS was voted #1 Best International Trip Planning Company in Professional Pilot’s PRASE Survey.
UAS International Trip Support has been in business nearly 20 years. Regional Director – Americas Ryan Frankhouser has over 15 years of experience in the international trip support industry. With brick-and-mortar offices in over 30 countries, and regional headquarters in the Americas (Houston TX), Asia-Pacific (Beijing, China), Africa (Johannesburg, South Africa) and the Middle East (Dubai, UAE), a focus on global technology and connectivity is paramount.
In recent years, innovative technology initiatives are focused on flight planning and weather, datalink, and inflight communications. “Our flight planning system, UAS FlightEvolution, is a cutting-edge product that is highly user-friendly and astonishingly fast and powerful. It is the only flight planning tool on the market that seamlessly integrates with industry-leader ForeFlight Mobile. And UAS LinkEvolution, our communications platform, offers VHF and satellite datalink (ACARS) product and telephone/fax/internet services” shares Frankhouser.
Global services expansion
Universal Weather and Aviation marks its 60th anniversary this year. Combined, Senior Manager – Digital Content and Communications Louis Smyth, and Master Mission Advisor Greg Goins have nearly 30 years of international trip support industry experience. The duo is firmly focused in the expansion of physical locations, services, technology, and vertical integration.
The company’s services are expanding across the globe, including Barcelona, Madrid, Costa Rica, and Hong Kong. On the technology front, there are new features on the uvGO app that customers were able to demo at NBAA-BACE in Las Vegas this year. At universalweather.com, customers will also find a blog full of interesting business aviation operational information, like navigating the 2020 Olympic Summer Games in Tokyo.
Vertical integration for Universal means an opportunity to reduce handoffs in the customer experience. In July 2019, Universal and Drivania Chauffeurs announced they have formed a new joint venture. Under this agreement, Universal’s ground transportation business, formally under Universal Private Transport, will combine with Drivania’s business aviation division – Drivania Bizav – to create a new ground transportation company focused on the business aviation industry.
Universal Private Transport was launched by Universal in 2016 to address the unmet need to better integrate crew and VIP ground transportation into the overall planning and delivery logistics of a mission, reducing 4th-party handoffs, minimizing scheduling errors with ground transportation providers, and improving response times for changes.
Industry trends Consolidation.
Over the past decade, like in many segments of GA, there has been a trend of consolidation in play.
Some international trip planning companies have been acquired by others, creating traditional economies of scale for themselves and their customers. Another acquisition growth strategy in play relates to vertical integration.
Large aviation-centric organizations have added international trip planning companies to their business portfolios to vertically integrate and gain an additional connection point to GA users and their overall customer experience. Additionally, new brands have entered the market, and they’ve been growing steadily, which leaves customers with a wide range of choices.
Another trend is enhanced customer-facing technology, and it’s entering the space at a record pace. Customers’ desires to have self-service type technology is driving the availability of online information about the mechanics of international flight planning, and the increased capabilities to execute it.
However, this trend is not replacing the need for technical international trip planning expertise. International trip support companies are investing wisely in technology to enhance the customer experience by way of real-time communication and information exchange technology. They do so via their websites and proprietary smartphone apps. “The biggest trend we are seeing now is the move towards self-service technologies,” remarks Frankhouser.
“We believe that the current and next generation of pilots and flightcrews want to do more themselves. We have quickly moved from a ‘protection of information’ to a ‘dissemination of information’ ecosystem in this industry.
Customers want options. All the major players in the aviation service provider industry are trying to meet this demand with apps and other technology. Now it has become a race between service providers to build and deploy these technologies and innovative toolsets.”
Costs for services.
There is consensus belief among international trip planning experts that, despite the industry consolidation and vertical integration strategies executed, pricing for international trip planning services has remained highly competitive.
Experts also suggest that customers need to perform some due diligence when comparing quotes from multiple international trip support companies to get an apples–to–apples price comparison. Some providers bundle services while others do not, so it can appear one provider is either more or less expensive for a given service.
Their best advice recommends customers walk through their quotes in detail with each provider to ensure a clear understanding of all fees and services to be included. In addition, loyalty matters when it comes to the best available pricing, and guaranteed trip volume can garner special pricing programs and discounts.