Podcast: JetClub Launches in Europe

BCA editor Bill Carey speaks with Vishal Hiremath, co-founder of fractional ownership company JetIt, about plans to launch sister company JetClub in Europe.

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Rush Transcript:

Bill Carey:                   Hello. This is Bill Carey, senior editor with Business and Commercial Aviation and welcome to this BCA podcast. I am pleased to be joined by Mr. Vishal Hiremath, the co-founder and president of U.S.-based fractional ownership company, Jet It, and now the founder of a new sister company called JetClub, which is based in Europe. The founders of Jet It announced the launch of JetClub in March 2021. Vishal, thank you for joining us today.

Vishal Hiremath:         Thank you, Bill. Happy to be here.

Bill Carey:                   You founded Jet It in 2018 and since then have launched Jet It Canada and JetClub to serve the European market. Could you describe your plans for JetClub—where it will be based, which destinations it will serve, and how the fleet will be operated and maintained?

Vishal Hiremath:         Sure. So, Bill, as you rightly pointed out, we started in the U.S. first under the Jet It brand with my co-founder Glenn Gonzales. We both worked at Honda Aircraft Company and what we noticed during our time at Honda Aircraft was that people love the aircraft. It is a very fast, efficient, spacious aircraft. And what people were telling us was that they loved the aircraft, but because of the fixed costs and the various costs and the various logistics that are needed to fly and manage an aircraft, they didn't see the need to own a whole aircraft. We got this question constantly, both in the United States as well as internationally, where I was spending quite a bit of time marketing the HondaJet. And so, we decided to launch in the U.S. first because obviously in the U.S. is where aviation is the most prevalent, it's the biggest market.

                                    And following our success in the U.S., where we have had a phenomenal fleet growth and a lot of fractional owners that have joined our program, we decided to launch both in Canada, obviously due to the proximity with the U.S. and the fact that we were getting a lot of interest from Canada. Eventually we decided to launch in Europe because this airplane is perfect for Europe. If you look at it from the westernmost point of Europe, let's say Ireland, the UK, to the easternmost within the European Union, it is within the range of the aircraft, whether you go west to east or north to south. And from my experience in spending time in Europe, as well as in Asia Pacific, what I found is people love the aircraft and when they saw our program doing well in the U.S. they started asking us of when we will bring the program across the Atlantic.

So, we decided to launch. We will be making an announcement here pretty soon as to our first commercial flight operation expected in the next month, sometime in early May. And that will be our first aircraft. And so we're going to have our own, what you call an Air Operator Certificate in Europe, which is the same as a Part 135 certificate here in the U.S. And we will operate the aircraft under the Part 135 certificate so we will obviously have a fractional model just like we offer in the United States. But when the fractional owners are not using the aircraft, we will also have the airplanes available for charter.

Bill Carey:                   I should have mentioned your background. You're a former Honda Aircraft and Gulfstream executive and a Rockwell Collins engineer. Is that correct?

Vishal Hiremath:         That's right.

Bill Carey:                   So, you have quite good knowledge of the HondaJet. With the COVID-19 pandemic still causing disruption in air travel, this seems like an interesting time to start a new business. What trends in European travel give you confidence to launch JetClub at this time?

Vishal Hiremath:         Great question, Bill. So, COVID was an interesting, and obviously it's been very COVID was an interesting challenge, and obviously it's been very tragic to a lot of people and families. I'll go back to the story of in the U.S. When we started, obviously COVID was not an issue at that time when we launched but during the pandemic what we saw is more and more people were worried about their safety and their family's safety, especially flying through commercial airports and on commercial aircraft. So, we grew through the pandemic and that gave us this encouraging trend that we also noticed in other parts of the world where people that historically had not flown private, were considering that option. We decided that this is the right opportunity, because we have also seen market trends where the trend toward flying private is also towards lighter jets. And that's due to a host of different reasons, whether it's people who are looking for a more financially smart, financially intelligent way to travel. But if you're flying about two hours and less than four passengers then, I mean, it's a pretty ideal solution to fly a light jet and be able to save a lot of costs versus chartering something bigger.

We saw those market trends. We saw some light jet traffic that was pretty steady and also demand from those markets where we have been approached by many clients and brokers asking us when we can start [because] they are receiving a lot of inquiries. That gave us a very positive and encouraging trend line to say, this is the right time and this is the right time to start. And then as the region comes out of the pandemic and as vaccinations pick up, I think we will be well-placed to offer the service.

Bill Carey:                   Could you describe any cleaning or other practices that JetClub will implement in response to the pandemic?

Vishal Hiremath:         We have a very thorough COVID policy. We make sure that we disinfect the aircraft before and after every flight, we use all the ICAO and the EASA recommended guidelines to make sure the aircraft is properly sanitized and cleansed. Our pilots before and after the flight, when they have to interact with the passengers, are always wearing their masks. We ensure that we follow all the required guidelines from all the various agencies, the government agencies to ensure that all the tests that are done, all the COVID PCR tests results, come back the way they should come to be able to enable a safe flight. In terms of keeping the aircraft clean and sanitized, that's something that is non-negotiable. We want to ensure the safety of all of our clients and passengers, but also our crew and team members as well. That is something that we pay very close attention to.

Bill Carey:                   JetClub is based on a day-use fractional business model. Could you explain how this model differs from other fractional models and which advantages it offers?

Vishal Hiremath:         Yes. In the early days, when we were planning to launch this program, what we looked at was what are some of the common travel trends? Especially for business travelers, because in the end, of course, we have some clients that fly for leisure but most of our clients use the aircraft as a business tool. And what we found was that a lot of the businesses and entrepreneurs that use a private aircraft, including some of our clients right now that are flying—they use the aircraft on a mission profile where they will go to multiple cities, or in this case in Europe multiple countries on the same day. They will have a meeting; let's say they take off from London, they have a meeting in Paris, then they have another meeting in Berlin and then they want to come back to London.

What we found out was most people that want to have a productive day and want to come back home to their families the same day. This model is perfectly suited for them because, again, you can do multiple meetings. If you want to maybe take some time off for a quick round on the golf course, do another meeting, and come back home by dinner, then the day model suits you because as a fractional owner you can use that whole day for your mission requirements. We found that to be very popular, actually. I mean, yes, the hourly model works as well, but in our case the appeal of the day model is that there's no limit on the hours for that day. The only limitation would be the crew duty time, but as long as we are within that window the clients can pretty much use the airplane for as long as they want.

Bill Carey:                   You've already touched upon this a little bit, but what are the performance characteristics of the HondaJet that make it ideal for JetClub's operations?

Vishal Hiremath:         As I said earlier, the HondaJet fits perfectly within this [operation]. If you draw a circle around the European Union from north to south and west to east, pretty much the HondaJet can cover almost 90% of that without requiring a fuel stop. As you know, there are obviously some cases when either the winds are strong or there's a heavy passenger load, then obviously we will require a fuel stop. But for the most part, the airplane can do the mission in Europe between most city pairs without requiring a stop and can comfortably carry four to five passengers in the cabin. The really positive part of the cabin experience compared to any other aircraft in this class is that there's a lot of leg room and head room. The way the aircraft is designed, you don't play footsie with the other passenger sitting in front of you in a typical four-seat club configuration.

So it has a very spacious cabin, very spacious baggage. It is the fastest aircraft in its class—its maximum cruise speed of 420 knots. The aircraft flies quietly, flies high, sips fuel and is very spacious. We have done a few demo flights and then some static demonstrations in Europe and the reception has been very positive and people love it. As you mentioned earlier, Bill, I worked at Gulfstream as well. When I sat in the HondaJet for the first time, [I thought] HondaJet may be a light jet or a small jet from the outside, but when you're inside the cabin and you're sitting down, it is actually very, very spacious, with ample headroom and leg room. It's a well-designed aircraft, very well engineered.

Bill Carey:                   What is your outlook for the fractional ownership market and business aviation in general as we emerge from the pandemic?

Vishal Hiremath:         I'm very encouraged by the trend lines that we're looking at and the fact that more and more people are considering private aviation and the way we—especially for us in JetClub and of course, Jet It in the U.S.—have seen a lot of interest and a lot of demand. People are factoring in the travel time, the productivity, the quality of life. And obviously during the pandemic, what is most important to them, is safety of their loved ones. And the confluence of all these factors have worked in our favor too. We feel that there will be a strong demand and a strong success for our business model.

That is not only anecdotal. From the data and the research that we have done and some of the inquiries we are receiving, not only in Europe now but even beyond Europe, throughout Asia Pacific, our long-term goal is to also be in those regions so that we can offer our clients, let's say if they're members in Europe, if they travel to the U.S., they have access to the fleet in the U.S. and vice versa.

Bill Carey:                   Yes. I think business aviation has endured the pandemic quite well and really shown its value proposition during this difficult time. Well, Vishal I've run through the list of questions that I have. This has been very enlightening and thank you again for participating in this BCA podcast and good luck with JetClub going forward.

Vishal Hiremath:         Thank you, Bill. Thank you so much.

Bill Carey

Based in Washington, DC, Bill covers avionics, air traffic management and aviation safety for Aviation Week. A former daily newspaper reporter, he has covered the commercial, business and military aviation segments as well as unmanned aircraft systems. Prior to joining Aviation Week in November 2017, he worked for Aviation International News and Avionics and Rotor & Wing magazines.