Q&A: Changing Perception

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Chapman Freeborn has been around since 1973 and today has 35 offices around the world, including a presence in South Africa and Uganda. It offers a range of services and ultimately would like to be regarded as the world’s foremost aircraft charter service organisation. But Iain Clark, Managing Director of the group’s African operation, acknowledges that it’s a competitive market, with little or no room for error.  

Q: What differentiates Chapman Freeborn from the other players in the private aviation market?

A: We are able to source from the world’s inventory of available aircraft and perform airport reviews and route evaluation, so that we always select the best aircraft to suit our client. This is made possible by having offices strategically located worldwide. We set ourselves apart from the competition by delivering superior individualised service. Our approach is based on applying seasoned judgment to a specific set of circumstances and objectives unique to an institution, rather than applying conventional wisdom to a standardised template. This flexibility is the converse of many of our competitors. We also pride ourselves on providing a first class service at a competitive price.

Q: Are you happy with the level of awareness of the South African business travel industry, regarding your offering?

A: It is a key focus point for Chapman Freeborn – Africa, to really drive our private charter solutions within the market, be it for a meeting, a site visit to a mining location or MICE travel, as this is a growth market for us.

Q: How competitive is the South African private aviation industry?

A: Extremely, and the barriers to entry are very high for newcomers. There are many established players in the market, which results in competitive pricing, as well as keeping the operators honest.

Q: Do you still face a challenge convincing the South African business travel industry of the benefits and value of private aviation?

A: Yes, and we will always have that challenge. While private jet chartering fulfils the highest standard of travelling in luxury, one needs to point out that it also offers convenience and safety. When time saving is paramount, it is often the only feasible way to travel when involving a multi-city, time-sensitive itinerary, or when travelling to remote locations where the infrastructure does not allow for the commercial option. Aviation connectivity is playing a critical role in a changing Africa.

Q: Is private aviation still seen as a luxury? If so, how do you change this perception?

A: Yes, for those who love the luxury of first class air travel, but loathe the imposition of having to share it with others. Luxury private jet travel has soared in recent months, due to an intersection of strong markets, shrewd partnerships and brand expansion. The business traveller has a choice of flight routes and schedules, and last minute flight list confirmation without penalty. Key to changing the perception is the fact that the business traveller/company is in control of the travel plans.

Q: Do you believe the state of the African airline industry has resulted in more opportunity for African private aviation operators?

A: Yes. In today’s environment of corporate accountability, protracted airport formalities and airline route cutbacks, African private aviation operators are in line to secure more business.

Q: Are there any current themes that are dominating discussions among African private aviation operators?

A: A talking point among the bigger firms is the increasing presence of smaller firms undercutting the bigger ones, as their overheads are less. This has resulted in lower profits.

Q: Can you give us an indication of the types of industries that are making use of your services?

A: We work closely with mining, construction and energy companies who look to us for crew rotations and site meetings. There are also medical evacuations, government and NGO travel, VIPs, multinational corporations, international sports teams, big music bands and celebrities, not forgetting travel management companies and tour operators.

Q: Likewise, are these clients mostly South African, African or ‘international’?

A: If we are dealing with a MICE group, then it will normally come from a South African DMC for either an international or domestic group. On the corporate side, requests come from all over. We also do a lot of intercompany requests from other Chapman Freeborn offices.

Q: What does the future hold for privation aviation in Africa, and what will ensure its success?

A: We anticipate growth over the next few years, but the industry must ensure that it is an efficient industry that supports growth in both tourism and trade.