PS opened in 2017 as the Private Suite, a one-of-a-kind private terminal at one of the country’s busiest airports. Like most travel and hospitality companies, business was down at the pandemic’s peak in 2020 as would-be travelers stayed at home amid lockdowns.
But just over one full year since lockdowns began, PS is reporting a resurgence in new memberships from flyers getting ready to travel.
Amina Belouizdad, PS’ co-chief executive officer, told Insider that memberships have surged and the company has signed on more new members than it had before the pandemic. Annual membership costs $4,500 but the wealthy are scooping them up, even if they don’t have upcoming travel planned.
“I think people want to have peace of mind that they have access to this,” Belouizdad said. “It’s a signal of customer sentiment, is what it is. People are saying, ‘I’m expecting to travel over the next year, I want to make sure me and my family can do it safely.'”
And with that in mind, PS is embarking on a redesign for its Los Angeles flagship terminal to welcome back travelers with a new look. I stopped by PS on a recent layover in Los Angeles, here’s what it was like.
The major appeal of PS is avoiding the commercial terminal at LAX entirely, and that’s only increased during the pandemic. Memberships are up as the wealthy want guaranteed access, even if they don’t have plans to fly in the near future.
For those arriving at LAX by plane, the experience starts with a chauffeured car. PS representatives wait in the jetway to meet guests as soon as they step off of their flights, and promptly escort them to an awaiting vehicle below.
PS has a fleet of vehicles available to use depending on group size but the flagship is the BMW 750i. Ideal for one to two passengers, the classic all-white sedan features an executive configuration for passengers in the back.
The car is loaded with luxurious amenities including leather seats with recline functionality to individual climate control for passengers in the back.
There are even seat-back entertainment screens from which the SiriusXM radio can be controlled.
Then, it’s around a 10 to 15-minute drive to PS, located on the south side of the airport. As two runways separate the facility from the commercial terminals, drivers have to go all the way around the airport while obeying the airport’s modest speed limit
As an aviation enthusiast, however, I wish the drive lasted longer as we were right alongside moving aircraft for most of the drive.
Behemoth jets like the Boeing 747 were just outside the window, departing and landing just feet from the car.
It was like getting a private tour of the airport all while traveling at the height of luxury.
Upon arrival at PS, it’s just a short walk down a private hallway into the facility. Everything from reservations to payment is done online so there’s no checking in or waiting in line. I didn’t even see another guest for the entirety of my stay.
There are 13 suites in total at PS. Not all have received the redesign but that project is expected to be completed within the next six months.
I walked into the suite and felt as if I’d just checked into a luxury hotel.
It was incredibly modern and above any private lounge that I’ve seen at an airport. Members pay $3,250 per visit while non-members pay $4,350 per visit for up to four travelers.
The suites aren’t as large as a hotel suite but are comparable in size to a New York City studio apartment and include spacious living areas, wet bars, fully-stocked mini-fridges, and private bathrooms, among other features.
PS takes a personal touch when dealing with guests. A handwritten note is left for guests welcoming them to the facility and detailing what they can expect from the stay.
A massive high-definition television with DirecTV serves as the main entertainment for the suite, helping pass the time until a flight.
Guests can also make use of the in-suite phone and stationary. PS staff use the phone to communicate with guests and keep them informed on their departure information.
This quasi-kitchen and wet bar are where all of the suite’s food and beverage items can be found.
A selection of high-end snacks, liquors, and wines were all on offer and available free of charge to guests.
Snacks included pistachios, almonds, keto-friendly cereal, and water crackers, to name just a few.
Guests are also encouraged to take snacks with them on the plane and given this blue box to do so.
The fridge contained chilled soft drinks, waters, milk, alcoholic beverages, and even some more snacks. A guest here will truly want for nothing as everything is at their fingertips.
Those making cocktails can use the bar station and the pre-filled bucket of ice.
And there was no shortage of glasses, cups, and dishes to use when dining.
Complimentary travel accessories were also scattered across the suite including noise-isolating headphones, headphone splitters, and charging cables.
The luxury continued into the restroom complete with marble floors and vanities, as well as gold-plated sink faucets.
And the complimentary amenities kept on coming with everything a traveler would need to freshen up before a flight.
There was even a selection of over-the-counter medications on offer if a traveler is feeling unwell or just wants a dose of Vitamin C to boost the immune system while traveling.
The suite design is the result of a partnership with Cliff Fong, a renowned design consultant, and it really felt like home instead of a transient space.
“Our vision was always like, let’s create a space that feels residential, that feels like their home, that doesn’t feel like the airport, that doesn’t feel like a commercial space, that feels very familiar and collected,” Belouizdad said.
The suite window overlooked the airfield, as well as the PS fleet of luxury vehicles. The firm also offers a new service, called PS Direct, where flyers can be taken straight from their domestic flights to their final destination and avoid both the commercial terminal and the PS facility altogether.
Directly adjacent to the suite is an outdoor patio with benches and chairs to enjoy a bit of the outdoors before heading off on a plane for however many hours.
Suite 13 is often the most sought after since it includes this private outdoor space, accessible via a sliding door from the living room.
Meals are included in the stay and everything comes pre-packaged for sanitary reasons.
The current menu is largely focused on Los Angeles-inspired meals, mainly salads and sandwiches, for lunch and dinner.
I sampled the Peruvian steak sandwich and the chicken and prosciutto salad. Both were bursting with flavor and better than most of what’s available even in LAX’s premium lounges.
It really came as no surprise that the wealthy are buying up access to the facility since staying here was so much more enjoyable than any airport experience I’ve had in years.
For me, I found the true luxury of the suite wasn’t the complimentary goodies that were offered but that it was a quiet place to relax during a long layover nestled into an already long day of travel. Suites also feature a sleep kit with eyeshades and earplugs.
When it was time to leave, PS staff came to the suite and escorted me to the in-house Transportation and Security Administration checkpoint. There’s no line and TSA PreCheck was available.
Then, it was just a short drive back to the commercial terminals and my awaiting JetBlue Airways flight.
Vista Global on Thursday announced a deal to acquire private aviation firm Apollo Jets in the latest bid to grow its US market share.
The acquisition will give Vista around 4,000 Apollo Jets clients and a fleet of aircraft currently operated by Talon Air, an Apollo Jets company. Vista sees the opportunity to convert Apollo’s customers into XO members and subscribers, paying extra for better rates and perks like complimentary aircraft upgrades.
“The Apollo acquisition reinforces Vista Global’s unrivaled commitment to providing every business aviation client with the best value flying solutions around the world,” Thomas Flohr, Vista Global’s founder and chairman, said in a statement.
Growth by acquisition has been Dubai-based Vista Global’s primary means of expansion in the US, starting with the purchase of XOJET in 2018 and continuing with JetSmarter in 2019. The two companies were merged under the Vista umbrella to create XO, solidifying Vista Global as one of the largest private aviation firms in the country.
XO offers five types of membership that range from no charge to $1,000 per month. A free membership still allows customers to book on-demand private charters but charges a $395 per flight booking service while a paid membership waives that fee and includes dynamic pricing.
Apollo Jets, alternatively, does not operate on a membership-based model and the firm’s charter brokers often receive a commission on the flight they book for customers.
The COVID-19 pandemic saw new travel trends better suited to larger operators like XO. Current Apollo clients will benefit, for example, from XO’s fleet of “floating” aircraft, or planes that have no fixed base and can perform one-way flights for a fraction of the cost that traditional operators can offer.
Vista will now be able to offer aircraft management services through Talon Air. The Farmingdale, New York-based Part 135 carrier boasts heavy jets like the Gulfstream G550 and Challenger 604, as well as the largest fleet of super-midsize Beechcraft Hawker 4000 aircraft in the US, that XO clients will be able to book.
Vista expects the acquisition to be completed in the first quarter of 2021 and projects flight activity will grow by 20% following the deal. The completed deal will continue Vista’s track record of at least one acquisition per year since 2018, which shows no signs of slowing.
“I believe this is just the beginning of consolidation in our industry and Vista Global is leading this market transformation,” Flohr said.
Textron Aviation is continuing the legacy of the iconic Beechcraft King Air family of aircraft and debuted its latest iteration in August. Starting at $7.9 million, the King Air 360 features advanced onboard systems aimed at easing the flying experience.
“The Beechcraft King Air 360 builds on decades of renowned versatility and reliability in the King Air family,” Ron Draper, Textron Aviation’s president and CEO, said, “and this upgrade further elevates it with the aircraft’s superior features and engineering advancements designed to create an enhanced flying experience for passengers and crew alike.”
Any frequent private aircraft flyer is sure to recognize the King Air as its been faithfully flying since the 1960s. Aircraft in the product line have been used by entities ranging from private airlines to national governments.
Levi Stockton is the president of Hawthorne, California-based Advanced Air, an aircraft management firm and private charter airline that operates 22 aircraft, including nine King Airs. He recently got a first-hand look at the King Air 360 during a recent visit to Textron Aviation’s Kansas factory.
Here’s why he’s excited about the Beechcraft King Air 360.
Stockton has been flying King Air’s since 2005. The King Air 350, the family’s largest passenger model, is also the flagship of his firm’s scheduled airline division.
“The King Air is really an amazing airplane that does what is advertised,” Stockton told Insider.
And from what he’s seen, the King Air 360 is no different. Textron Aviation’s latest turboprop has room for up to 11 passengers and a range of 1,806 nautical miles.
It can tackle the short hops like New York-Boston or Los Angeles-Las Vegas while also able to stretch its legs on longer routes like Chicago-Miami or Denver-Philadelphia, when conditions allow.
The true improvements are on the inside, however, including in the passenger cabin that can seat up to 11 passengers. Technically it’s same as its predecessor’s, but Stockton says that the cabin liners have been made thinner to give the cabin a more spacious feel.
The windows have manual shades instead of elaborate electronic shades or dimmers.
And the side tables have been elevated so passengers have more knee space. The improvements may seem basic but likely come as a result of customer feedback, Stockton said.
The Collins Aerospace Pro Line Fusion cockpit has one of the aircraft’s greatest improvements, the addition of an autothrottle system for pilots.
The system allows pilots to set a speed and the aircraft will automatically adjust the throttles to accommodate, reducing pilot workload and ensuring the plane is running at peak performance.
“You’re going to allow the airplane to always be right at the right performance numbers rather than trying to get the throttles just perfect,” Stockton said, adding that this can help prevent engine issues and keep maintenance costs down.
Cabin pressurization is also automated on the new aircraft, further reducing pilot workload. Aircraft cruising at 27,000 feet will also be pressurized as low as 5,960 feet, Stockton said, decreasing air travel’s effect on the body for passengers.
Textron also unveiled the King Air 360ER, offering longer ranges of up to 2,692 nautical miles. That’s enough range to fly from Los Angeles to New York.
Stockton said that King Air has carrying capabilities that outweigh even some jet aircraft. Up to 15 passengers can fit in the King Air 360ER while most light and midsize jets can’t, even if the turboprop isn’t as fast.
And cargo carriers can also use the plane to transport freight.
Both aircraft are powered by Pratt & Whitney PT6A-60A engines, offering a maximum cruise speed of over 300 knots.
The same autothrottle and digital pressurization systems are also available in the King Air 260.
Stockton said that making the King Air faster will be something he looks for in future variants.
So will Advanced Air be placing the next order for the King Air 360? No. Stockton’s firm typically manages aircraft purchased by other companies or wealthy individuals and does not typically make purchases itself.
But Stockton does expect to be managing a King Air 360 within the next few years for a client, and is excited to see the iconic aircraft continuing to be updated.
“It just shows that this particular airplane is going to be around for a long time,” Stockton said.
It’s been a rollercoaster of a year for the aviation industry, but private aviation has become one of the 2020’s greatest success stories.
A promising start to 2020 quickly turned sour as fears of the novel coronavirus inflicted commercial flight cancellations across Asia, with the industry as a whole going off a cliff in March. Private aviation’s continued growth since the 2008 economic recession was halted overnight as there was simply no place to go during the pandemic’s peak.
A rush of wealthy flyers chartering emergency evacuation flights quickly turned into stagnation for many operators, with some firms temporarily closing up shop and furloughing workers. But its recovery began in earnest come May with more wealthy flyers taking to the skies as lockdowns ended across the US.
Florida, Georgia, Texas, and Colorado were among the most popular destinations early on as the wealthy wanted to social distance in peace and luxury. And aircraft manufacturers continued producing the latest and greatest private aircraft in preparation for when the world’s borders will once again be open for travel.
Here are some of private aviation’s highlights from 2020.
Vista Jet took delivery of its first Bombardier Global 7500
VistaJet became the first charter operator to acquire the Bombardier Global 7500 in 2020, offering travelers a new option for ultra-long-range travel. With a range of 7,700 nautical miles, the Global 7500 is the longest-ranged aircraft in its class, beating out any competitor from Gulfstream or Dassault Aviation.
Cities pairs like New York-Hong Kong, Moscow-Buenos Aires, and Los Angeles-Dubai are easily achievable under the right conditions. The jet even features a private bedroom complete with a full-size bed and owners can opt for a shower.
The Global 7500 is still one of the rarest private jets currently flying having debuted in December 2018. A sales firm was tasked with selling a brand-new model for $70 million from an owner who had purchased but no longer wanted the aircraft.
Airbus turns its controversial A220 into a private jet
Airbus unveiled the VIP version of its new A220 airliner, known as the Airbus Corporate Jet “TwoTwenty,” in October. European private aviation specialist Comlux was given the task of designing the interior.
Six orders have already been placed for the aircraft including two from Comlux, with operators looking to take advantage of the jet’s economics. Airbus says the plane can fly up to 5,650 nautical miles, enough to fly between Europe and the US West Coast. Comlux’s design includes an 18-seat cabin and a private bedroom with a king-size bed
XO embarks on a massive fleet refurbishment and expansion program
VistaGlobal-owned XO is upgrading its fleet of Cessna Citation X and Bombardier Challenger 300 aircraft with interior updates and new paint jobs. The larger Challenger 300s were painted in Vista’s red and silver, better aligning the look of the two companies’ aircraft.
Bringing on more planes also means hiring more pilots. Kevin Thomas, president and chief operating officer of XOJET Aviation, told Business Insider that 4,000 pilots have applied for his company as furloughs have crushed the airline industry.
Jet Linx purchased Teterboro, New Jersey’s Meridian Air Charter in a deal that solidified the former as the second-largest aircraft management firm in the Northeastern US. CEO Jamie Walker told Business Insider in an exclusive interview that he decided to move forward with the deal during the pandemic, even when the industry’s recovery wasn’t assured, based on his experience during the 2008 economic recession.
“We had made the determination that if there’s ever a better time to start a new location, it would be coming out of a recessionary period,” Walker told Business Insider about his firm’s 2009 expansion to Dallas, which shaped his thinking on expansion when the economy took another turn for the worse 11 years later. “So having done it once already, it was an easier decision to make this time around.”
The move gives the Omaha, Nebraska-based company a larger foothold in the New York area as Teterboro Airport is one of the busiest executive airports in the country thanks to its proximity to Manhattan. We also toured Jet Linx’s private terminal at Teterboro to see just how different the airport experience is for the wealthy.
Private aviation firms focus more on health and safety
One firm, Silver Air, created a “COVID cleared” program where every step of the journey from door to door would be verified clean to eliminate fears of contracting the virus. Flexjet also now flies its flight crews around on private aircraft to prevent them from flying on the airlines.
Dassault Aviation unveils its Falcon 6X
Dassault Aviation virtually unveiled its Falcon 6X private jet, the latest in a family of aircraft that dates back to the early days of the jet age, in December. The twin-engine jet is billed as an “ultra widebody” since it’s wider than most of the competitors in its class.
Its other cool features include oversized windows, a skylight, and a heads-up display in the cockpit that can see through the clouds. The $47 million jet can fly up to 5,500 nautical miles, enabling city pairs like Los Angeles-Moscow, New York-Tel Aviv, and London-Hong Kong. Deliveries are slated to being in 2022.
Flexjet takes delivery of its first Embraer Praetor 600
Flexjet took delivery of one of Embraer’s latest aircraft, the Praetor 600, in November to be used for its European division as part of a $1.4 billion order. Its nine-passenger cabin comes with a mix of club seats and a divan, as well as an enclosed lavatory.
The jet’s impressive performance makes it a veritable jack of all trades, able to access Europe’s notoriously challenging airports like London’s City Airport and Switzerland’s Engadin Airport, as well as fly non-stop between Paris and New York.
Aerion breaks ground on its Melbourne, Florida campus
Supersonic jets will soon be built in Melbourne, Florida as Aerion is one of the frontrunners in the race to build a modern-age supersonic jet, opting first to create a business jet that can fly at speeds of Mach 1.4. The startup recently chose Melbourne International Airport in Florida to be the home of its new $300 million headquarters and production campus.
Melbourne is located on Florida’s Space Coast – soon to be the Supersonic Coast – just a few miles from NASA’s Cape Canaveral. Aerion CEO Tom Vice told Business Insider that the campus will be eco-friendly by reusing collected rainwater and providing electric vehicle charging stations for employees.
The first aircraft will fly in five years, Vice said, and will sell for $120 million.
Otto Aviation unveils a new private aircraft concept set to revolutionize the industry
A startup shocked the industry when it unveiled the Celera 500L, a plane that can fly 4,500 nautical miles at speeds of 450 miles per hour with costs lower than even the smallest private jet. Otto Aviation is seeking to make private aviation more affordable and environmentally friendly, and its oval-shaped aircraft is set to do just that.
An hour of flight time only costs $328, a fraction of what it costs to fly the Cirrus Vision Jet, and it can easily cross oceans with its intercontinental range while only burning 18 to 25 gallons of fuel for every mile it flies. At least 31 flights have been successfully flown with the Celera 500L and it’s scheduled for certification in 2023.
Bombardier delivers the first Global 5500 and Learjet 75 Liberty to a customer
While also building new models like the Global 7500, Bombardier also looked back at its existing models to see where improvements could be made. One such result was the Global 5500, the updated version of the Global 5000, which Bombardier first delivered in June.
Bombardier also delivered its first Learjet 75 Liberty, an improved version of the Learjet 75 that includes an executive office and near-cross country range, in October. The Learjet name has been a staple in private aviation for decades, flying the likes of Frank Sinatra and James Brown.
An aircraft sales firm began accepting bitcoin for its planes
Sometimes cash isn’t always king. Sales firm Aviatrade began accepting cryptocurrency like bitcoin for its multi-million aircraft in 2020 to give buyers more options when making a purchase. Accepting cryptocurrency allows international buyers to make major purchases without being subject to restrictions.
A flying cruise ship joined the COVID-19 airlift by transporting personal protective equipment from China
The early days of the pandemic revealed a shortage of personal protective equipment in the US as healthcare workers struggled to keep up with the influx of new coronavirus patients in hospitals. A perfect storm of high demand and fewer passenger flights meant that getting more from China was more expensive and private aircraft operators saw an opportunity to get their planes back in the air.
One of the aircraft that participated was a Boeing 777-200 named CrystalSkye that acted as a flying cruise ship before the pandemic under the Crystal Cruises brand and later became a VIP aircraft available for charter. The massive cabin is ideal for heads of states and the wealthiest of travelers as it includes butler service, a bar, a full dining area, and 88 lie-flat seats.
Aircraft manufacturers teamed up with the auto industry for some expensive collaborations
Embraer and Porsche teamed up in 2020 and unveiled their private jet and supercar pairing in November. Dubbed “Duet,” the pair includes a matching Embraer Phenom 300E and Porsche 911 Turbo S with a sticker price of $11 million that also includes a Porsche Design 1919 Globetimer UTC watch and luggage set.
Comlux unveiled its Boeing 767 private jet with air that it says kills coronavirus
Comlux specializes in airliners-turned-private jets and one of its flagship aircraft is a VIP Boeing 767-200 named SkyLady. The aircraft recently underwent a cabin upgrade during the pandemic to include a private apartment within the plane, a first class cabin, and a premium economy cabin.
Just like CrystalSkye, which Comlux also operates for Crystal Cruises, this plane is meant for the upper echelons of society. One of the hidden upgrades that may be the aircraft’s new best selling point, however, is an ionization system that Comlux says kills the novel coronavirus.
Passengers onboard don’t need to wear a mask while on board as a result.
Leisure customers dominated in the industry and became the backbone for its recovery
Business travelers have been largely grounded since March as companies are shifting to virtual meetings to avoid sending their employees out on the road where they could possibly be exposed to COVID-19. The loss of the segment hindered private aviation’s recovery until another stepped up and took the skies in massive numbers, leisure travelers.
A surge of travelers over the summer continued into fall and has been propping up the industry while business travelers stay home. Firms began shifting their efforts towards leisure flying even more after a McKinsey and Company study found that only 90% of ultra-high-net-worth individuals don’t fly private, revealing an untapped market.
Expansion was widespread in the industry with XO looking to bring on more planes and pilots, Directional Aviation speeding up the launch of FXAIR, Jet Linx acquiring Meridian Air Charter, and Jet Edge International growing its point-to-point fleet of Bombardier Challengers.