BBT editor Paul Revel talks to aviation veteran David Rimmer, who is set to launch a regular New York-London private jet service in the spring.
Blissjet will sell individual tickets, priced at $11,995, on the weekly service between LaGuardia and Stansted, using long-range Gulfstream G450 and G550 business jets.
Rimmer was previously president of private jet charter operator Excelaire. Before starting his career in aviation, he worked for more than 20 years in media, including as a radio broadcaster and magazine editor.
What is the planned timetable for Blissjet flights?
We’re going to do a daytime flight on Sunday, and a last flight out return from London to New York on Thursday. The reasoning for the daytime trip on Sunday is that I’ve never met in all my years in aviation anybody who felt good at the end of a red-eye. Even if you have a lie-flat and pillow, whatever it is, you just don’t wake up feeling 100 per cent.
So it’s a 11am departure from LaGuardia, which gets you to Stansted around 10:30-10:45 on Sunday night – avoid the traffic, get a full night’s sleep, and wake up fresh for Monday morning business.
The return flight on Thursday night is the last flight out of the UK to New York. You get the full business day, you can have dinner and get to the airport 30 minutes before departure. The goal for both flights is to have you in bed by midnight.
All-business transatlantic ventures Eos, Maxjet and Silverjet all folded, and La Compagnie recently dropped its London-NY route. Are you concerned by all these failures?
When you look at those that came before us and folded, they were derivatives of airlines. We’re not trying to be an airline model, we’re going to provide the service expectation and the efficiencies of private jet travel.
I loved Eos – less so Maxjet and Silverjet – but I still had to go to JFK, still had to wait in a long security line, walk a mile to the airplane. And I had to walk a mile from the airplane to customs when I arrived, and wait for my bags. And to anybody who did the math on what Eos were charging versus what their operating costs had to be, the inescapable conclusion was this is probably not economically viable.
The same with Maxjet and Silverjet – they have all the expense of operating an airline, and an incremental benefit over flying first or business class on another scheduled airline. And they lacked the other airlines’ networks, frequent flyer programmes, economies of scale.
But we’re not trying to emulate an airline model where we just stick fewer seats into a traditional airliner and put people through the chain of delays and inconvenience that an airline has. We’re coming with a completely different sensibility. Private jet people are accustomed to a different level of service, different sense of accountability to customers. It’s a much more personal service that the airlines just aren’t set up for.
You’re guaranteeing to fly those regular services regardless of how many of the 10 seats you sell on each flight. Aren’t you taking a risk?
Sure there’s risk. There’s risk in any new venture, so that’s factored in. But when you look at how robust the market is between New York and London – there’s 30 flights a day in each direction, and about 800,000 seats a year in first and business class. We’re looking at 10 a week seats in each direction, that’s around 1,000 seats. It’s a very strong market, and it’s sustained by business travellers, there are a lot of last-minute bookings.
We have reported recently on ‘disruptors’ such as Surf Air and Onejet bringing new models of buying air travel. Is Blissjet part of this trend?
I think [the trend] all come out of people’s frustration with how inefficient the system has become. And it I think [new entrants to the market] are great – to expand the options available to travellers is exciting for all of us who travel.
But what distinguishes us from Surf Air and some of the other models is that we’re not a membership model. We’re still a la carte. We’re looking to provide a high-touch service on a commonly flown route. I’m not trying to democratise or ‘Uberize’ private jet travel.
Are you working with corporate travel buyers?
Our first target market is the people who we know are familiar with private aviation: the hedge fund community, fashion, entertainment… where private jet travel is standard.
We will work with corporates, but I think it will be a longer learning process to make people understand that it’s not just the perceived cachet of a private jet. It’s really about saving three and a half to four hours each leg. At Stansted they will park the aircraft virtually outside the door, there’ll be a 5-1 ratio of passengers to customs officials. They’ll be out into their car within minutes of arrival.
In 2006, flying onboard an Excelaire Legacy 600 business jet, David (and the six other Legacy passengers) survived a mid-air collision with a Gol Airlines B737-800. None of the 154 people onboard the Gol aircraft survived.
Did this terrible experience make you consider ending a career in aviation?
It’s a trauma that is part of my day-to-day life. You know, it’s been 10 years, and there’s not been a day since when I’ve not woken up and felt grateful to have survived it – what was in most people’s belief, an un-survivable event. But we had to get on an airplane 24 hours after the crash, to leave the military base – in the same kind of aircraft that we had the collision. Then we flew to another airport for the pilots to be interviewed, and then I had to fly home.
Aviation and business travel have been part of my life even before I was in aviation professionally. I think there’s so much safety built into the system. I just have confidence in the people who are responsible for the system. So I fly with confidence, and I fly often. To me travel is one of the greatest gifts that we have.