Capitalizing on empty-legs – another shot in the dark or a business aviation panacea?

Capitalizing on empty-legs – another shot in the dark or a business aviation panacea?In its recent article British Daily Mail reports putting the JetSmarter app to test and finding out that with their empty-leg deals you now can fly from Bristol to Nice for a price less than that of an Air France business class ticket. At a first glance, filling an empty plane seems to be an idea that would benefit both, passengers and operators. However, it is still unclear if the business model, which already experienced troubles in the past, will bear fruit now, as it deprives private aviation of what it is famous for – freedom and flexibility.

It is no secret that empty-leg syndrome has long been a problem causing losses for business aviation. According to Forbes, more than 40% of all private jet flights are operated on an empty aircraft, as most customers tend to fly only one way, leaving the plane to return to its home airport or another destination. Today, however, numerous operators and newly emerged independent apps, acting as brokers, are offering to fill these fruitless trips with paying passengers.

For instance, JetSmarter app claims to have already attracted over 300 000 users and is averaging 10 bookings a day. In the meantime, JetPartner – another new private jet broker app, calling itself “the only real-time online platform for finding empty-leg flights” – claims to be able to offer over 1000 flights of this type at any given time. However, while definitely looking as a very good deal at a first glance, the offer is not without its flaws.

“As flying an empty aircraft is definitely costly, putting those flights to good use would definitely look brilliantly on paper. Sadly, it’s a different story in real life”, says Vitalij Kapitonov, the CEO of KlasJet. “We have seen many attempts and talks on how to “revolutionize” the business in the past – and all of them went up in smoke. For instance, BlackJet used a similar business model, trying to capitalize heavily on empty-leg flights. As a result, the company ended up losing $200 000 a week because it was extremely inconvenient. After all, empty-legs are very volatile, as they are dependent on the primary customer’s schedule.” 

According to the executive, another important aspect to remember is that private travel is not just about getting from point A to point B - it is about the journey itself and the ability to relax and in most cases, take care of work. In fact, according to PrivateFly, almost 90% of all private flights are currently related to business. However, doing this while sharing an aircraft – which is not an uncommon strategy of cutting travel costs, empty-leg flight included – might not be something a traveller is actually looking forward to.

“Entrepreneurs, CEOs, top executives and other business travellers clearly understand the value of time, let alone the simple mathematics. Knowing that private travellers fly less than 25 hours per year, a $7000 subscription for an app, without the actual flights doesn’t sound very penny-wise. Furthermore, today’s travellers opt for a productive environment and flexibility, not a packed cabin or a wait. So however tempting a low-cost private flight may seem, it is something of a double-edged sword.”