Qatar Airways aims to carve out a larger slice of the business jet market – as well as growing the overall size of that decidedly premium pie – with the launch of an innovative program which lets travellers pre-purchase flight time on the Qatar Executive private jet fleet at a fixed hourly rate.
Christened the Diamond Agreement, it offers what Qatar Executive’s Mark Hardman considers a welcome degree of certainty in these uncertain times.
The all-inclusive flat hourly rate comes with guaranteed availability (for a 72-hour advance booking) without any black-out dates or minimum annual usage, plus an unlimited carry-over of hours from year to year.
“The Diamond Agreement is really about simplifying private jet travel,” Hardman tells Executive Traveller.
“Historically there's basically been two products” in the corporate and private jet charter market, explains Hardman, a 30-year veteran of the industry, “and the Diamond Agreement literally takes the best parts of both and combines them into this new product.”
“On-demand or ad hoc charters offer flexibility without commitment, although the downside is that there’s no guaranteed availability when you want on a given day, and the pricing is also different for every trip.”
Shine bright like a Diamond
Qatar Executive’s Diamond Agreement borrows the fixed hourly rates of the alternative ‘jet card’ approach, “but jet card pricing tends to be plus-plus-plus.”
“There are tariffs for high-density airports, if you want Internet or if you need de-icing depending on where you are in the world, dealing with blackouts, that type of thing.”
“So if you take the positives from on-demand and jet card and bring those together, that's really what we are offering.”
The ability for clients to have unused hours fully refunded is another unique part of the package, which Hardman considers a reflection of “the world we now find ourselves living in.”
“When you're looking at spending a significant amount of money on something like this, in the world we're living in today, the fact that any unused hours can be refunded is second to none.”
Diamond Agreement plans are purchased in a minimum of 50 hours and are available across Qatar Executive’s 18-strong fleet, from the nimble Bombardier Challenger 605 and Global 5000 to the ultra-long range (14,000km, 15-hour flying range) Gulfstream G650ER and the forthcoming G700, for which Qatar Executive is launch customer.
These jets are dotted around the world – Hardman describes the fleet as being ‘nomadic’ rather than having a fixed base. “At any one time, there could be a number (of jets) in each region.”
That spread reflects Qatar Executive’s client base of “ultra-high net worth individuals, corporates and governments”, Hardman says, darting between and around the USA, Europe, Asia and Australia.
“Into and out of Australia the biggest destinations are the US, Hong Kong, Japan, China, Indonesia and Singapore,” Hardman relates.
“We are among the top five VIP jet operators in and out of Australia, you're looking at something like five to ten flights in an average month.”
“A key thing for us is keeping the positioning down – we have dedicated people looking at fleet utilisation, looking to optimise and promote the aircraft in any one location, where they are or where they're expected to be.”
And while Qatar Executive offers cost-effective ‘empty leg’ bookings, “Diamond Agreement customers purely pay for live flying, you don't pay for the positioning.”
“From a budgetary perspective, you don’t have to worry about where the aircraft is. You'd be paying the same amount on that route today, as you would tomorrow, as you would in 11 months time.”
“So the Diamond Agreement is very much an industry-leading product with industry-leading pricing.”
Business jet pricing goes bespoke
Hardman declined requests by Executive Traveller to provide examples of the per-hour Diamond Agreement pricing, saying it was "driven by the client's specific requirements."
“We actually talk with our clients to understand their travel profile – where they generally travel from and to, how much notice they can give us.”
“No two clients are the same, so no two programs are the same,” Hardman says, adding that the airline can even “by prior request facilitate smoking on board. Basically, everything is tailored to the client's needs.”
Hardman also notes that Covid-19 has sparked an uptick in demand for private jet bookings, as travellers seek to avoid crowded commercial flights and airports.
“The number of inquiries have pretty much doubled on last year (and) obviously there's been times, during like March, when we've been exceptionally busy getting people home.”
“And we've had the challenge of international borders opening and closing, restrictions, quarantine… but there really is a big demand there for VIP and private jet travel.”