Technology is changing the private jet industry, but not quite to the degree that it has revolutionised services such as banking and retail. Booking flights online on Expedia is a completely different ball game to choosing the right private jet for your journey. The multitude of different parameters involved often means that a degree of manual correspondence, over the telephone or via e-mail, is needed to help guide you through the process, regardless of how you want to book your flight.
Leading aircraft charter company Air Charter Service (ACS), which has been in business for over quarter of a century, recently announced that it will spend £10 million over the next five years advancing the company’s charter booking technologies and online presence. With access to 50,000 aircraft and websites in a number of languages, each tailored to the local marketplace, as well as a very popular app launched two years ago, ACS is constantly updating and revamping its technology.
ACS’s new website www.aircharter.co.uk, which went online last month, offers customers a vast range of aircraft and specialist services, and the new design will soon be rolled out worldwide, supporting the company’s 18 offices.
But, as the company’s chief executive Justin Bowman is keen to point out, when it comes to giving customers the best service, cutting-edge technology is not the whole story. “We know many people are very happy to book online, but we believe removing the human element of the process completely is something that only benefits the company, not the customer,” he says. “The fact is many people who are chartering a jet will want to speak to someone, a human being on the end of the phone, before they book – looking at a list of aircraft and prices online is useful, but can be confusing. Private aviation is about bespoke solutions, it is not as simple as booking a seat on an airline.”
Many customers are often keen to make an enquiry via the website, check prices and explore the options, but want to speak to a real person before they make a booking
Mr Bowman believes that, in their rush to adopt new technology and automate services, some charter companies are forgetting this essential fact. “We find many customers are often keen to make an enquiry via the website, check prices and explore the options, but want to speak to a real person before they make a booking,” he says. ACS staff are experienced in every aspect of private aviation, and can give the kind of additional information and guidance a website alone, however sophisticated, cannot.
A blend of technology and that personal touch is especially important should something go wrong. Weather delays, airport closures and a host of other situations, which are beyond any airline’s control, cannot be dealt with by an app; phone calls would have to be made to arrange alternative transport or keep the customer informed of when their aircraft is able to depart.
A PA arranging a flight for a busy, demanding boss, for example, will want to ensure that every detail has been confirmed and the person they’re booking for will have exactly the flight they want. “There is also the risk that they may book a charter online on an aircraft with a poor record of reliability, but if they speak to one of our experts, they can advise the pros and cons of each aircraft available at the time they want to book.”
ACS believes that constantly evolving technology offers huge advantages to those booking private planes for themselves or others. But it is the blend of personal service and technology that saw the company increase sales by 16 per cent in 2014 – with receipts reaching almost £300 million.