The glamorous world of private jets is no longer the domain of the super-rich. Private aviation is set to soar in Africa as business keeps checking in.
Well-heeled women glide in and out of an opulent mansion in a leafy suburb in Sandton, Africa’s richest square mile.
The champagne-colored granite of the stairway meets the elegant tips of their Manolo Blahnik stilettos.
This is a medical aesthetic and holistic wellness center called Anti-Aging Art in the posh suburb in Johannesburg.
It is a home-turned-medical center belonging to Reza Mia, a doctor and co-owner of the clinic patronized by the rich and famous. Mia also happens to design jets, as the founder and CEO of Pegasus Universal Aerospace, an aviation company based in South Africa with the sole purpose of creating innovative aviation solutions.
Between surgical facelifts and building sophisticated jets, Mia finally makes time for an interview at 5PM on a Friday afternoon.
Dressed in navy blue scrubs, he sits on a luxurious leather sofa as he tells FORBES AFRICA about his connection with aviation.
Mia is currently designing a vertical take-off jet that he says will add to the convenience of private travel.
The aesthetic surgeon has been developing the Pegasus One Vertical Business Jet (VBJ1) since 2012, which he says will be completed in three years.
It’s an attempt to revolutionize luxury air travel in South Africa.
“It can land and take off like a helicopter anywhere a helicopter could, in fact more places because it doesn’t have a spinning rotor blade and it is quieter especially for built-up areas and neighborhoods. It can accelerate and fly at the speed of a business jet which is almost 800km/h so that is about four times the speed of a helicopter,” he says.
Cool-air fan technology allows the jet to take off and land anywhere, he adds, which means it’s less hassle for customers.
Privacy and convenience count as currency in this business.
Business aviation company, ExecuJet Aviation, currently operates and manages four bases for private jets in Africa.
The Johannesburg base is located at Lanseria International Airport, about an hour’s drive from the city.
The flashy cars in the parking lot speak about the kind of travelers taking off from here.
Staff meander in and out of the private terminal on this busy day, yet there is no millionaire in sight in an expensive Armani suit jetting off for his next business trip.
You never see them, they are that discreet about client privacy.
On a global scale, the company manages and operates about 260 aircraft and is also in Kenya and Nigeria, with the newest entrant in Seychelles.
With almost three decades in the aviation industry, the company has kept a close watch on the rising market of business aviation in Africa.
Stationed on the apron is a white Bombardier Challenger 300 worth about $26 million.
The nine-seater aircraft boasts a bathroom and features glossy cherry-wood surfaces.
This gloss is all-pervasive and there is not a speck of dust in sight.
The soft, plush carpet is a shade lighter than the grey leather seating decked with comfy cushions that enhance the elegance.
ExecuJet’s Africa Vice President, Gavin Kiggen, says despite the demand and increase for private travel on the continent, perceptions of the industry can be misleading from both a business and client perspective.
“The margins are extremely low and the competition is very strong because you have new entrants who are trying to get market share.
“The perception is that it’s lucrative because of the kinds of tools and services we offer but it is a tough industry to be involved in,” he says.
As a developing region, Africa needs to prioritize infrastructure while attracting sales to uphold the competitive edge in the global business aviation market.
This can be achieved through innovative ideas. Promoting the economic benefits of the market will lure investors from all over the world.
Time waits for no man, and Africa’s elite, exclusive travelers know that only too well.
According to a review by Mordor Intelligence, Global business jet market – growth, trends and forecast (2018 – 2023), the exclusivity of private jets has ceased to be the domain of the extremely wealthy.
This change is owing to time-share and fractional ownership of aircraft.
ExecuJet reports Africa has 481 registered private jets and the year-on-year growth for the business aviation industry in Africa is 44%.
Private aviation is still a growing market in Africa in comparison to the regions where it is fully developed.
Approximately three quarters of the sale of business jets is in the west, mainly in North America and Europe.
Predictions are that India and China are well on their way to become market leaders by 2020.
With continued industrial growth in Africa, consequently, there has been a rise in business travel.
Despite the lag in competitiveness on a global scale, private aviation in South Africa, which is Africa’s second-largest economy, has the potential to take the continent to new heights as business keeps checking in.
Private jets are commonly used by high-net-worth individuals, business executives, sports teams and government officials.
Time efficiency is the core reason why these jetsetters prefer private aviation over commercial planes. Greater control over flight schedules and operation of the aircraft forms part of the package.
Add privacy and a dash of luxury and the high-flyer is ready for take-off.
The Jet Traveler Report 2018, the global perspective on who flies privately and how, by Wealth-X, categorizes high-fliers into three types to make a comparison based on their flight preferences. These include owners, members and the wider ultra-high-net-worth audience.
Unsurprisingly, 35% owners of private jets are worth more than $500 million as per The Jet Traveler Report.
The majority are over 60 years old. ‘Members’ are frequent fliers on membership programs.
Private jets have now also become more accessible and appealing to the wider executive population.
The report states that on-demand private fliers are the youngest and least wealthy ultra-high-net-worth individuals.
In comparison to the wealth of members and owners, these jetsetters have average wealth of $67 million.
Editor and publisher of SA Flyer and FlightCom magazines, Guy Leitch, says although the South African market is showing signs of recovery, there are shortcomings.
“Poor on-the-ground infrastructure for aviation, poor access to aircraft finance and the lack of aircraft does not ensure adequate support for development,” he says.
The same can be argued for the rest of Africa.
According to the Mordor Intelligence review published in April, lack of infrastructure is one the biggest limitations that affect business jet sales in South America, Africa and the Asia-Pacific.
The costs of building the much-needed infrastructure are so high operations may not be feasible.
Regions like Europe and North America with higher private aircraft demands have lower costs. Flying privately in the regions is charged on a one-way basis, therefore costs are reduced as opposed to Africa where charges are doubled.
“In those regions, there is always an aircraft available that’s going to your destination and you can pay a reduced rate because it is considered an empty leg. Our industry is unfortunately not that far ahead yet,” says Kiggen from ExecuJets.
Industry data by Global Jet Capital released in 2017 indicates that 2025 will witness more than 25% growth in the market.
The influx of new aircraft on the continent is forecast to have a value of $3.9 billion, or just under $500 million per year.
The emergence of the “African affluent” demographic on the continent has become an important emerging segment for the private aviation sector.
These individuals are younger than their European counterparts and are on average 40 years old, according to a report by ExecuJet called The Evolution of Charter Into Africa 2018.
Smartphones and technological mobility make it easier for young flyers on the go, and as a result, gives the market more visibility and mileage.
“Social media has also brought a phenomena called the influencer; these are rich kids or media personalities who document their travel through social media (Instagram, Facebook and Twitter),” says Kiggen.
These jetsetters snap the glitz and glamor of private flying and share it with other influencers. This also makes it easier for private charter companies in Africa to attract clients from different spheres of life, thus changing the perception that jets are only used by the ultra-rich and famous.
In addition, an increase in enquiries for hiring the jets, from even car manufacturers for their marketing events, shows the market is paving the way for more diversified business.
Jeremy Nel, the CEO of Luxury Brands, a South African luxury marketing group based in Cape Town, argues that although high-flyers use their mobile devices to source best rates and most direct routes, the reputation of the private charter as a brand is something potential clients continue to look out for.
“The branding of the aircraft is also aligned to be the best fit, most clients who outright purchase an aircraft will take the plethora of advice as to the most suitable model for their needs and then choose from the best breed of operators,” says Nel.
Inner-circle referrals and the relationship the client has with the company, in addition to the preference of a specific pilot, can further influence decision-making.
Back in the richest square mile of Africa, Sandton, in a modern office adorned with waterfalls and earthy décor, a tall man dressed in a blue shirt walks in.
When he is not flying over the shimmering turquoise waters of the Maldives, South African pilot Jack Coetzee is the Managing Director at Quintessential Aviation.
With over 1, 500 flying hours to his credit, Coetzee has seen private jet passengers with requirements ranging from Egyptian cotton linen to Kentucky Fried Chicken on the flight.
“It is aircraft-orientated; they like a specific type of aircraft.
“[The customer] knows how the seats work, he knows the pilots invariably that are flying the aircraft are competent,” he says.
As for aspiring owners, Leitch emphasizes they understand the importance of the technicalities of owning an aircraft, to avoid losing money.
The first step is to determine what it will be used for, and then take the size, range and price parameters into consideration.
“New or used [aircraft], it doesn’t matter. Make sure you can crew it, maintain it, afford it and then order it,” he says.
Much like commercial aviation, owners and private charter companies must comply with air laws and the strict regulations set by the civil aviation authorities.
Odette Basson, Charter Manager Africa, at ExecuJets, says some laws are airfield dependent.
This is based on where you are traveling in and out of, so compliance is critical.
“Yes, you can be an owner of a private aircraft but it doesn’t mean you can just do what you want. There are laws that govern the flying,” she says.
In addition to overseeing operations above the ground, regulators keep a close watch on the hours the crew fly, which aircraft they are flying and how frequently they go for training.
“Your crew must be trained specifically, the aircraft must be maintained specifically and according to the operator’s specifications. You must have a commercial license to operate and you must have an air service license. It is actually very well-regulated and governed to death,” says Kiggen.
And thus it is that millions of dollars fly over the richest and poorest cities of Africa.
The sky is a commodity. How much are you willing to splash out for a piece of it?