Air Partner plc - 12 Nov 2015
With aircraft charter becoming increasingly popular with sports teams, the demand for our services from this sector has risen. Here’s a small insight into our day to day activities in the field of aircraft charter.
Traditionally, aircraft charter was usually only required for teams competing in European competitions such as the Champions League and Europa League in the case of football, and the European Champions Cup and Six Nations in Rugby. Over the last few years, as the demand has continued to rise from football and rugby teams, we are now operating charters for cycling teams, athletes, ice hockey teams, basketball teams, golfers, sailing teams, as well as supporters and corporate guests following the events. This year we have operated charters not just within Europe, but also the USA, Mexico, Canada, Australia, China, Indonesia, Vietnam and the UAE ratcheting up hundreds of thousands worth of miles in the process. So why is charter such a pre-requisite for the top clubs?
The client is able to dictate where they want to fly to and from, and at what time. They can arrange to have training in the morning, and then depart together to the airport straight afterwards. There are always airport slots, and opening hours to consider, but the Account Manager’s role is vital in advising which airports are most suitable for the client’s requirements. For example, a team may wish to depart in the middle of the night straight after an evening game – the airport closest to the venue may not be open 24 hours. Our role is to suggest the nearest suitable alternatives (if unable to negotiate with the nearest airport to see if they can make an exception in the circumstances). Being tied to schedules that do not suit the team is often not an option.
The next factor to consider is discretion – whilst some teams are happy to be taken through the main terminal, there are some occasions where this is not an option from a safety point of view; therefore a private terminal is used. For one of our charters to China this year, the team were greeted by so many fans that a police presence was required to ensure that the team could pass from the private terminal safely to be awaited by coaches. Being part of the logistics is vital to ensure everything goes smoothly. Having your own aircraft allows you to select who travels on board and even then, we have the ability of separating cabins on board the aircraft to give players privacy from the club officials, corporate guests, and development teams that often travel too.
We have seen requests for everything, from drinks being served at a certain temperatures to arranging for hot pizza to be served to the players on the flight back from the game. Nutrition and hydration on board the aircraft is a detail that we have to get right. We often work with the club’s nutritionists before the flight to ensure that the catering we order is in line with the players requirements. For a recent summer tour, we arranged and attended a meeting between the airline’s caterers and the club to ensure that the catering provided on board the flight met the exact nutritional specifications required by the club for their players. It’s the small details that matter.
For short domestic flights or regional hops, economy aircraft such as the 49-seat Embraer 145 are very popular – this economical aircraft is suitable for flights generally up to 2 hours. However, for the longer sectors such as the pre or post season tours which involve long-haul flights, the requirements are very different. Lie flat seats are almost a non-negotiable requirement of the teams and specialist business-class only aircraft have been extremely popular this year. We only foresee the demand for this type of aircraft increasing. We have chartered aircraft such as the Boeing Business Jet (BBJ), B757, and B767 this year in all business class configurations, as well as tri-class A340s, and for one team, the world’s largest passenger airliner – the A380. The space and comfort these aircraft offer enable teams to stretch out, relax, and sleep; so that the impact of long-haul travel on passengers is minimised.
Sports teams require confidence that the people looking after them know their requirements and have the experience to ensure that the aircraft charter process is as smooth as possible. Knowing intimately what the teams like and dislike is key – everything from technical expertise of aircraft types, configurations, seat pitch and recline angles, through to their preferred private terminals and airport destinations. Even the small things such as the manager’s favourite drink, the flavour of boiled sweets, and the soaps they like in the on-board toilets – we go into that much detail. These are all important in making every charter a success. If done well, the Account Manager becomes part of team – so much so that for one team this year, the Account Manager was actually invited to celebrate with the team on the back of their success.
Logistical excellence, expertise, and a customer focus from the time the team depart the stadium, venue, or hotel, right through to the moment they walk out of the terminal (and often beyond), that’s why Air Partner is first choice in providing aircraft charter for sports’ teams across the globe.