VIMANA PRIVATE JETS CEO SAYS IT’S THE BEST WAY TO TRAVEL
Who wouldn’t want to travel by private jet, let alone own a private jet company? Particularly during these difficult times of Coronavirus COVID-19, private aviation is appealing to many as well as a necessity for some. The pros include arriving 10-minutes before the flight; getting to a desired destination in hard to reach places in the world, with selective and limited numbers on board; privacy, customisation; and (comfort aside) flexibility. These are what separates private aviation with other means of transportation. The possibility to land at any airport, travel luxuriously, with a team to fully adapt to a client’s needs just seems so alluring – doesn’t it?
Enter serial entrepreneur Ameerh Naran. Born and bred in Zimbabwe, Ameerh is the founder and CEO of Vimana Private Jets, he says, “My parents always taught me you can have anything you want in life. You just have to know how to ask for it.” His father owned Zimbabwe’s largest independent shoe manufacturer, Conte Shoes, and his mother had a chain of shops selling Oriental Indian garments. At 23, he broke into the plane-brokerage business. Bear in mind, with no experience, he connected with veterans Dennis Jans of CharterJet International and Joseph Amissah of Blue Cube Aviation, and after being shown the ropes, impressively (a year later), he managed to get an agreement for exclusive representation rights for the Africa region with rival Blue Star Jets. Although the company closed down in 2016, because it was sold to Apollo Jets, Ameerh’s experience with them only enticed him to set up his own company called Vimana Private Jets. However, his love for high speed travel also goes beyond private aviation, Ameerh is also currently raising millions for his own supercar brand, which he’s planning to unveil at the 2021 Geneva International Motor Show.
At a young age, Ameerh remembers travelling in style. “I was 8 years old the first time I flew private. We were on a family holiday from Harare to an island in Mozambique with my parents and my two cousins. We were holidaying on an island that could only be accessed using its private runway or by boat,” Ameerh recalls. Nowadays, the CEO says he doesn’t fly private all the time, but he hopes that will soon change the more successful he becomes. Today, he manages all sorts of clients catering for very specific requests. Based in London, with a team of over 50 staff, Ameerh’s continually on call 24/7 to make sure clients are well taken care of.
Q. Has private jet travel changed since Coronavirus COVID-19? How has business been recently?
A. The spread of COVID-19 and response by the aviation industry has resulted in an unprecedented decline in global air traffic. Commercial flights decreased 55 per cent in the final week of March 2020 compared to 2019. Airport revenues have disappeared as they are largely deserted, and some governments are stepping in with support packages, but this cannot be sustainable long-term. The impact on employment is deeply worrying. IATA’s latest analysis shows that 25 million jobs are at risk of disappearing with plummeting demand for air travel amid the COVID-19 crisis. The future of several commercial airlines is in the balance and many cannot survive the crisis. Many are adapting their services to switch to freight to build revenue, others may limp through depending on government support.
However, the private aviation industry has experienced a peak in demand due to the near-total shutdown of commercial aviation. For Vimana, business during the pandemic has been challenging and motivating in equal measure. In the short term, we have seen a huge upsurge in demand as commercial travel restrictions took hold. First and foremost, we are no longer rejecting a single request. Usually, we only work with a very select list of approved clients who are regular flyers with us and use us exclusively. However, in the last few months we have been experiencing very high demand for private charters from new clients which we are accommodating, given the situation. As a socially conscience company, we are mindful of the need to meet this exceptional demand even though it means our operations teams are flat out 24/7 and we are taking on far more clients that we would normally want to. We are especially proud to be have been part of a collective solution with embassies in the repatriation of citizens worldwide, to return people stranded overseas safely home.
Due to a chronic shortage of commercial cargo aircraft, Vimana Private Jets has also been meeting daily demand for medical cargo and we are humbled to be part of this global effort, turning over our VVIP passenger aircraft for use as cargo planes transporting medical equipment and supplies to many developing countries in particular. My diplomatic contacts have been especially useful in getting things moving quickly, and successfully delivered to countries desperate for these supplies. With our highly trained teams working across four continents, we can respond very quickly and efficiently to every urgent request.
As restrictions are easing, our focus has returned to servicing our loyal clients and getting them back in the air with the same exceptional flying experience they have come to expect from Vimana Private Jets. Our clients are anxious to secure their business interests and others want to resume their travel plans. They will be acutely aware of the risks of contagion in crowded environments, will want to avoid crowded airports and travelling on commercial aircraft, and that awareness will likely outlast the pandemic.
Q. Is it a safe and good way to travel during the pandemic?
A. Absolutely. Planes are deep cleaned prior to every client boarding, crews are regularly tested pre-flight and Vimana ensures every special client request is met from having extra medical equipment on board, to supplying pilots and stewards to wear extra protection and providing health certificates if this is what the client needs for added peace of mind.
Q. Is it becoming more accessible to travel by private jet? Are more people using it? What types?
A. Private jet travel has become more and more accessible over the last decade via competitive pricing, better availability of the top end luxurious jets, membership programmes and more recently due to market forces such as the low cost of fuel. Since inception, Vimana Private Jets sales have grown 250 per cent year on year and our service excellence has built a very loyal global client base with most clients flying with us exclusively.
Research shows that there is still a large pool of consumers and companies who can afford to fly privately, but until now, have not, at least in any meaningful way. With timing of a vaccine or cure for Coronavirus COVID-19 and reports that it’s not just the elderly who are vulnerable, private travel is likely to become more important for this type of consumer as well as for corporations trying to protect board members from illness, and governments ramping up the security and safety of key ministers and heads of state, for example.
And more importantly for us, we have seen a surge in regular flyers demanding better more luxurious and well-equipped aircraft. Vimana Private Jets is one of a few companies who specialise in the charter of VIP airliners which are large commercial airliners that have been reconfigured to flying apartments with en suite staterooms, lounges and dining rooms – regularly used by our current clients. VIP airliners are the most luxurious category of aircraft in existence. We have more and more new clients wanting to fly with us due to this specialist offering.
Our clients include governments, corporations and Ultra-high-net-worth individuals (UNHWIs), with highly challenging roles and commitments. Most clients have their own complex travel requirements; they often need to travel without notice, with the best security, exceptional service, and value on offer. We provide solutions to the toughest requests whether it be flying CEOs to remote airfields so they can survey a mine, oil field or agricultural sites, to opening up airports in the middle of the night for UHNWIs – our clients trust us to provide the most comprehensive solutions on offer. They simply cannot get the same offering from commercial airlines or many other providers
Q. What type of planes do you have?
A. We have access to the most luxurious aircrafts on the charter market, such as VIP configured wide body airliners: A340, B787, B767, B777, B747. These are large airliners that have been configured to seat around 10 per cent of the number of passengers that would be in commercial configuration and have staterooms (bedrooms) with en suite bathrooms and showers.
Q. Let’s talk about costs. How much is it to charter one? Can you give us rates and examples?
A. Private aviation pricing depends on several factors including aircraft availability, airport landing fees, and time between flights. But you might find a private flight could cost you less than you expect. For example if you are a usual business class or first class passenger and there is a family group, company or delegation needing to travel together, private jet charters can be very competitive and sometimes comparable as commercial first class, with the added bonus of no hassle travel, working to your own schedule and travelling in luxury.
Although private aviation is still reserved for the prestigious few; the pool of clients is getting larger every year. You really don’t need to be buy a private jet anymore, you can charter one or get a long lease. If you do your calculations properly, you’d be surprised because it may end up being more cost-efficient than you think. Chartering has no up-front costs and you only pay for the costs associated with your flight. Expect to pay from $1,500 per flight hour for a turboprop up to more than $40,000 per hour for a wide body VIP airliner.
Q. What does Vimana Private Jets offer clients?
A. Some individuals or corporates who are not using their private jet place them on the charter market to generate revenue (like in the yacht industry). We have access to 5000 aircrafts worldwide and are a private jet brokerage that is focused on the very top end of the private jet market.
Q. Any interesting stories about extravagant clients?
A. Vimana operates under the utmost confidentiality so specifics cannot be disclosed. However, because we offer such unique and exceptional service, we satisfy the most difficult requests. We have rescued clients from war zones, even saved an eminent politician from assassination by getting him securely out of the country after a political coup. Very recently we managed to get both closed airports and air space opened up to repatriate clients when governments could not, provided famous chefs to cook on board VIP airliners, to flying up to 30 passengers within hours of the request being received.
Once, an American family that wanted to attend the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil. As well arranging their flights, Vimana coordinated a complete redecoration of the floor of the Copacabana hotel they’d rented for the Olympic Games to ensure artwork, furniture and wallpaper matched the family’s tastes. Other moments include flying clients to Brazil for a jaguar safari, nighttime skiing trips in Vancouver, and shuttling celebrities from Havana to New York, to name a few.
Each client roughly spends around $1 million per month on their services. The Kardashians have all stated that they fly with Vimana – they’ve given special thanks to them on their show “Keeping up with the Kardashians.” Zimbabwean president, Emmerson Mnangwagwa, is a client because it’s been in the press. We pride ourselves on being able to go the extra mile for our clients, by offering what other brokerages say is impossible to achieve, such as getting permits to countries that would usually take days, but we do it within hours. We even manage to get slots at airports that are officially full.
Q. Do you always charter a plane when you travel? If not always, when can you justify travelling by private jet? Has it been useful for you during these times?
A. I work 365 days a year 24/7, so I do need to fly privately on certain occasions. It is so time efficient and allows me to host meetings and conference calls from the skies literally, so there is no down time. When I do get the chance of a break, I either go to remote islands to totally unwind, or seek adventure such as jaguar spotting in Argentina. For both, private jet is the only way to access these locations and it is well worth the cost to get there quickly and safely on my own time schedule.