An interview with Irina Duisimbekova, co-founder and President of AeroJet ME
The global pandemic has hit the aviation sector hard. But, while commercial air travel is facing an unprecedented slump, the demand for private aviation services continues to grow, driven by factors such as a lower cost of entry and passengers wanting a more hygienic and less crowded way to travel. However, the current crisis still poses serious challenges to private aviation due to travel bans and a lack of available crews.
Dealing with these difficulties head-on is leading private jet aviation broker AeroJet ME. Co-founder and President Irina Duisimbekova spoke to The Luxury Report about how the company is innovating and searching for new opportunities as Covid-19 takes aviation on a bumpy ride.
How is the pandemic affecting private air travel?
Irina Duisimbekova: While demand has increased, Covid-19 restrictions prevent us from operating certain flights. For example, US citizens cannot travel to Europe. Although the measures are strict, there are some exemptions for exceptional circumstances. For instance, in March, during a shutdown of Saudi Arabia’s airports, we obtained special authorisation from the Royal Court directly to evacuate several people from the kingdom for medical reasons. The aircraft had to land, refuel and take off within 30 minutes.
We have also been working with important clients, from companies listed on the CAC 40, to Fortune 500 companies and governments, as well as leading security and insurance companies that provide services such as medical and emergency evacuations. So while coronavirus has undoubtedly impacted the global aviation sector, we have overcome some of the restrictions.
Tough times create problems, but also opportunities. How is Aerojet ME meeting the challenges?
There are definitely more opportunities for the private aviation sector today. I realised there is an emerging niche for people who used to travel first class or business class and are willing to travel by private jet for short trips and share their aircraft with other people. Now we have clients that gather in groups for holiday or business trips, and they share the plane. We did not offer this service before the pandemic because of the widespread availability of commercial flights.
Global measures and restrictions due to Covid-19 are the biggest threats. One of our clients wanted to travel from Russia to Turkey then from Turkey to Greece. However, international flights were not allowed out of Turkey, and Greece was not accepting Turkey’s flights. In situations like this, we have to find a new flight plan so customers can avoid these restrictions by flying to neighbouring countries that aren’t so strict. While the virus is affecting the aviation market, there is potential for the private sector.
Are you concerned that remote working will reduce demand for private business travel?
Remote working and digital meetings have become the norm during 2020, but that’s because of restrictions preventing people from meeting in person. However, there are many situations in business where in-person meetings are essential. For example, someone investing in a factory has to inspect production units, or the owner of a marketing company spread across several sites will need to meet with employees from time to time. You just can’t do everything by Zoom.
How does it feel to be operating a business during a pandemic?
It is not easy because there are so many uncertainties. We don’t know what is going to happen with the situation. Are we all going to be vaccinated? Will passengers have to be vaccinated before they’re permitted to travel? Will the vaccine be effective? It is being developed quickly, and many people are worried about possible secondary effects. Therefore they may refuse to be vaccinated and may not be allowed to travel. So this could have a huge impact on the travel industry.
There are challenges but also opportunities for us. To develop a company, you need to attend conferences and exhibitions, which is something we cannot do in the current situation. Being with clients and potential clients in an exhibition is different from contacting someone on LinkedIn or having virtual meetings. Not being able to socialise with clients is very challenging for us. However, we are taking this time to expand internationally and grab new markets.
We know the US market is number one today in the private aviation sector as many individuals there are using private planes. This is a very important market for us, as is the Asian market where there is substantial growth. Here we are working closely with our partner in Asia, Faith Clero, a noted and highly respected businesswoman who opened AeroJet SE Asia to better serve customers in this ever-expanding sector.
With all these opportunities, are you excited about the future?
Personally, I see a bright future for private aviation because it is becoming more accessible to individuals who were not previously flying by private jet. More and more people are registering interest and requesting information from us.