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Flights of fancy: inside the world of air charter

They’re the time machines that historically have made A-lister international touring possible, but as James Hanley finds out, the use of private jets is becoming more commonplace among acts of all sizes amidst concerns over Covid and festival schedules that require something faster than ground transport.

Private jets are as embedded in rock & roll lore as Jack Daniel’s & coke and TVs flying out of hotel room windows. Most emblematic of all was The Starship – a former United Airlines Boeing 720 passenger jet used by the likes of the Rolling Stones, Deep Purple, Elton John, Alice Cooper, and most famously Led Zeppelin, who shelled out $30,000 to hire it for their 1973 tour.

Half a century later and The Starship might be consigned to music history, but the flight club is still bursting at the seams.

“Over the past ten years, the amount of air charter broker companies, agents, and similar services have increased considerably,” Justin Marshall, VIP charter manager for Chapman Freeborn, tells IQ. “Currently, the market is saturated with brokers, and the business is highly competitive. Before this, there was only a handful of experienced broker companies in the business.”

“Business aviation has experienced a turbulent couple of years, but one thing that is clear: flyers crave flexibility more than ever before”

Part of Avia Solutions Group, Chapman Freeborn boasts 29 strategically positioned offices worldwide from New York to New Delhi. The company, which will celebrate its 50th year of global aircraft charter in 2023, has built up countless long-standing customer relationships since its first music charter for David Bowie’s 1987 Glass Spider tour in 1987. It has gone on to work with household names such as the Stones, U2, and Coldplay, and is in the ascendancy again following the Covid lull.

“We are already quoting for and confirming a substantial amount of music tours for 2023,” says Marshall. “At present, we are experiencing an increase in the number of artists and bands chartering in South America for Q4 of 2022 and Q1 of 2023.”

Toby Edwards, co-CEO of on-demand jet charter platform Victor, the world’s first carbon negative aviation company, echoes the view of an increasingly crowded industry. “During Covid, the benefits of flying privately were exaggerated, which has attracted even more people and investment to what was already a highly competitive sector,” he says. “Like most sectors, business aviation has experienced a turbulent couple of years, but one thing that is clear: flyers crave flexibility more than ever before.”

Edwards cites a recent tour with a “massive international rock band” across three months, originating and finishing in LA, as evidence of Victor’s commitment to going the extra mile. “There were 13 passengers, 55 pieces of luggage, and critically – due to Covid – the added complications of multiple members of the band contracting Covid, meaning that concerts were cancelled and rescheduled at very short notice,” he recalls. “Our team utilised nine different jets and various helicopters to move all of the band members and their families around in a way that would maintain a Covid-free environment for the majority.

“Extra due diligence on the aircrafts and from crew was required, with strict protocol required from third parties assisting with moving the band around. This was all to ensure the band was able to attend all their scheduled commitments and maintain a Covid safe bubble.”

“On any one day, we could have had ten to 12 flights going around Europe or the US at the height of summer”

London-headquartered Premier Aviation has been operating for almost 30 years, working on five of the top ten biggest tours in history. More than 95% of its business is dedicated to music, and the company ran more than 20 tour charters over the summer, varying from two weeks to eight weeks in duration.

“On any one day, we could have had ten to 12 flights going around Europe or the US at the height of summer,” reveals broking manager Lizzy Templer. “At the moment, you’re averaging two or three flights a day. It’s tough out there, but that’s good for the client – they know they’re getting the best prices.

“Over the last ten years, we’ve seen more and more tours out in South America. They all kick off in August, September, October, and then the Middle East, Asia, from Christmas to January, February. But without doubt, summer is the height because everybody comes to Europe to do their summer tours. There are so many more festivals around than there were ten to 12 years ago, so that’s given us a lot more business.”

Templer suggests the personal touch offered by Premier helps set it apart. “We’re there 24/7 from the day they ask for a quote,” she says. “You build up a relationship, and it’s remembered.”

“For musicians, time is money. They can have a concert every two days and some even do it every day”

Also part of Avia Solutions Group, Vilnius, Lithuania-based Skyllence has flown everyone from Dua Lipa to the Rolling Stones and is in the process of plotting a Shakira tour of Latin America for late summer 2023.

“For musicians, time is money,” notes broker Oleg Markov. “They can have a concert every two days and some even do it every day, but it can be hard. If you are on tour in Europe, for example, there might not be a connecting flight between two cities on a particular date. If you travel by bus and the cities are near, then it’s okay, but if it’s in a different direction, then sometimes you need to fly.

“You can also take a bus and travel between cities, but then your tour will be not three months, but five or six. So you spend more time and earn less. Our service provides a fast solution.”

Markov indicates that practicality is a greater priority for music clients than luxury, as higher costs ultimately lead to higher priced concert tickets. “If you fly alone in a super-expensive jet and your team flies on another charter flight, it’s a lot of money,” he notes.

“You’re probably achieving two or three more gigs than you would do if you were trying to do it on a scheduled flight”

“People charter because of convenience and being able to achieve much more than you ever could on a scheduled flight,” chips in Templer. “They can get to airports that scheduled flights don’t service and they’re obviously on their own timetable. You’re probably achieving two or three more gigs than you would do if you were trying to do it on a scheduled flight.”

Victor’s Edwards estimates the cost of chartering a jet at roughly €10,000 per hour. “We believe on-demand jet charter is the most cost-effective way to fly privately,” he says. “For an artist or band going on tour, chartering an aircraft for the A, B and C parties can be a more effective way of travelling around the globe.

“Flying commercially for a tour simply isn’t feasible for many artists who have demanding travel schedules and who also require discretion and downtime between concerts. For some bands, the transportation of instruments alone would mean that flying commercially would involve a huge cost and complex coordination – which commercial airlines do not have the infrastructure to support with.

“From a welfare perspective, flying private means there is also no need to be dictated to by the commercial schedule. Concerts finish late in the evening, and the artists are usually full of adrenalin. It often makes sense for them to fly directly on to the next city for some downtime ahead of the next concert.”

Other benefits include shorter check-in times (“ten minutes versus two hours”) and access to more local airports.

“The bigger picture is that there is a lot of value to be had from chartering aircraft rather than just the price of the plane”

“For those who charter a jet, it is possible to fly to multiple destinations in one day,” sums up Edwards. “Such itineraries are not possible flying commercially, and therefore one must factor other costs such as hotels and people’s time into the bigger equation. The bigger picture is that there is a lot of value to be had from chartering aircraft rather than just the price of the plane.”

Chapman Freeborn’s Marshall contends that, in some instances, chartering an aircraft can actually be more cost-effective than a commercial flight. “This can only be determined on a case-by-case basis with aircraft availability, demand, time of year, fuel prices, chosen route, and various other factors playing important roles in measuring the overall cost-effectiveness of a charter,” he says.

Marshall notes that many charterers have begun to view private jet travel as no longer just a luxurious experience but a necessity to ensure their safe travel in the wake of the pandemic. “A busy day can pan out in different ways,” he adds. “Often an urgent flight request will get myself and the team buzzing around to find a quick solution, and we will all be working together to get a flight organised with just a couple of hours’ notice! It’s hard to give a flavour of a ‘typical day’ as things are rarely typical, and we know to expect the unexpected.”

Sustainability is another increasing area of concern. Victor recently partnered with Neste, the world-leading producer of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), which provides a solution for reducing greenhouse gas emissions of private jet charter by up to 80%.

“We also provide accurate fuel burn and carbon emission data for each flight at the point of quotation – another way in which transparency guides our high-touch customer service,” says Edwards. “Sustainability will continue to play an increasingly important role in shaping how the market develops, as celebrities and artists become more conscious of their carbon emissions.”

“The charter market has started to cool off since its peak in 2021, driven by the Covid rebound”

Looking ahead, Markov reports that as busy as 2022’s return to action has been for the business, next year is shaping up to be busier still. “A lot of major names moved their tours to next year because of the problems getting equipment and staff,” he says. “Private aviation is growing. In the pandemic, it was the only way to travel.”

Edwards points out that economic conditions have been unstable for a number of years now, whether from the pandemic or the war in Ukraine. As a result, all participants need to be extra attentive and agile in delivering services and planning ahead.

“The charter market has started to cool off since its peak in 2021, driven by the Covid rebound,” he explains. “In addition, the economic headwinds, environmental regulation, and climate optics are causing declines in activity. No industry is completely immune to the high energy costs, rising interest rates, and inflation.”

The effects of Covid-19 threaten to continue to linger for some time yet, however, warns Templer. “You’re up against delays because of staff shortages left over from Covid,” she says. “And a lot of operators are preferring ad hoc charters over chartering their aircraft for a whole tour, which makes it a bit more difficult.

“More bands also seem to be travelling with their road crew and admin staff post-Covid. They still want business seats for some, but there are only a limited amount in the summer because they’re all tied up with scheduled flights. So it can be a mad scramble.”

“We see the focus on more sustainable private aviation as a massive opportunity”

Indeed, supply and demand is a significant issue, with more people wanting to fly private than aircraft are available.

“This high demand also means that aircraft are being heavily used with tighter schedules, resulting in less flexibility for passengers – where historically flexibility was seen as an advantage of chartering aircraft,” elaborates Marshall. “However, this is where Chapman Freeborn has a distinct advantage for our clients – not only do we have access to services provided by our sister companies in the Avia Solutions Group family, but unlike some other providers, we are not affiliated with any specific airlines, meaning we have access to the entire market.”

With an eye on what happens next, Templer paints a positive short-term picture but feels some apprehension about the state of the economy in the longer term. “With the whole financial crisis globally at the moment and the cost of fuel, prices are escalating, and you wonder if people will be buying tickets for as many concerts, and will that affect how many tours there are going to be?” she ponders. “But so far, everything’s looking just as busy for next summer.”

“Covid-19 changed the music industry for sure, although there are still a large number of tours ongoing and planned for 2023, and we don’t expect this to slow down in the future,” offers Marshall.

“Like most aviation businesses, we have been impacted by the jet fuel price increases, which has meant that the cost of chartering has risen, too.” concludes Edwards. “Many operators who purchase large quantities of fuel have effectively had to lock in for at least six months, and this means that any positive fluctuations are not being passed on to the customer as the market varies. Setting expectations with customers is therefore also a challenge.

“That all said, with the strong US dollar, it also provides opportunities, and likewise, we see the focus on more sustainable private aviation as a massive opportunity, so it’s not all bad news.”


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IQ 115 out now: ILMC 35 preview, The Cure, Germany

IQ 115, the latest issue of the international live music industry’s favourite magazine, is available to read online now.

The November edition includes a sneak preview of the various events and gatherings set for the 35th edition of the International Live Music Conference, which will be held at the Royal Lancaster Hotel in London from 28 Feb – 3 March 2023.

In addition, Gordon Masson goes behind the scenes as The Cure resume their live career with their biggest ever European. In his latest market report, Adam Woods discovers Germany’s live music industry is enduring challenging times, while James Hanley examines the high-flying business of air charter.

Elsewhere, we celebrate AEG Presents France general manager Arnaud Meersseman‘s 20 years in music and profile 20 forward-thinking companies developing live music metaverse worlds.

For this edition’s columns and comments, AXS director of ticketing Paul Newman outlines how the Covid standstill allowed his team to reimagine its ticketing delivery systems; and Music Managers’ Forum CEO Anabella Coldrick details the various challenges facing the live music business.

Plus, four years since IQ’s agony aunt, Wasserman Music’s Alex Hardee, last shared his wisdom with those in need of guidance, it’s time once again for Auntie Alex to dispense some sage-like advice…

As always, the majority of the magazine’s content will appear online in some form in the next four weeks.

However, if you can’t wait for your fix of essential live music industry features, opinion and analysis, click here to subscribe to IQ from just £6.25 a month – or check out what you’re missing out on with the limited preview below:


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Andrea Bocelli sues air charter firm

Italian tenor Andrea Bocelli is suing an air charter company for breach of contract over the plane it provided for part of his 2021 North American tour.

According to AP, the 64-year-old says New Hampshire-based Private Jet Services gave him an older, noisier airplane than agreed upon.

He adds he was warned by flight crew to expect turbulence during the flight from Santa Ana, California to Cleveland, Ohio late last year, despite specifically requesting there be no mention of adverse weather due to it causing him anxiety, “because of his blindness but also because of his musical training and chosen profession”.

“He is also not a very keen flyer, as he has fear of flying and can feel anxiety related to safety issues during air travel”

“He is also not a very keen flyer, as he has fear of flying and can feel anxiety related to safety issues during air travel,” adds the lawsuit filed in the federal court by attorney Michele Kenney. “In particular, he is sensitive to the elevated noise that an older airplane tends to make in flight, with such elevated noise causing him more anxiety.”

Bocelli’s demands included that the plane not be more than four years old “to provide a higher standard” of safety.

As reported by Seacoast Online, the suit alleges that when Bocelli’s representatives complained, Private Jet Services “cancelled flights in the midst of Mr Bocelli’s tightly-scheduled concert tour, forcing him to scramble to secure jet replacement”.

Bocelli is asking for treble damages of the refund of the $569,800 he paid for 15 flights, the amount he paid for alternative flight arrangements, lawyers fees and damages.

Private Jet Services has not commented on the allegations.


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Queen + Adam Lambert named AirX’s first music ambassadors

AirX has announced that Queen + Adam Lambert are the first music artists to join the company’s growing Ambassador Programme. Coinciding with the Ambassador Programme, AirX will be flying the artists on their European tour to 16 shows in 14 cities across Europe.

Bernhard Wallner, group chief commercial officer, was at Farnborough Airport to welcome the band members onto their personalised Challenger 850 to commence their sold-out European tour.

AirX has significant experience and expertise in the organisation and management of music tours, and the company says it is “very proud to have Queen and Adam Lambert as their first music ambassadors”.

The Ambassador Programme now comprises Queen + Adam Lambert, the professional boxer Anthony Joshua OBE and footballer Aaron Ramsey.

To book or request a quote for a private charter, contact AirX on [email protected] or +44 7388 382 494.


Want to promote your business or product with a sponsored news story/banner package? Contact Archie Carmichael on +44 203 743 3288 or [email protected] for more information.

Hunt & Palmer acquires Aircraft Chartering Services

Premier Aviation parent Hunt & Palmer has acquired Aircraft Chartering Services (ACS), a UK-based company specialising in air-charter services for classical music clients, on the retirement of its founder, Mark Hugo.

Hugo founded ACS in May 1986 – a few weeks before the formation of Hunt & Palmer (H&P) – and has since established a diversified client base comprising world-renowned orchestras, government departments, niche tour operators and corporate clients.

As part of the acquisition, all of ACS’s staff will relocate from Epsom in Surrey to H&P’s offices (‘the Tower’) in Crawley, West Sussex.

Hugo comments: “My decision to invite H&P to acquire ACS Ltd was simple, because
I knew Peter [Hunt] and Jeremy [Palmer] had built a business that shares my professional values and responsibilities to my clients, staff and suppliers.”

“The ACS business very neatly complements H&P’s existing lines of commercial aviation, business jets, cargo charters and music tours”

“Peter and I have known Mark for over 40 years and always enjoyed great mutual respect,” adds Hunt. “We consider it a privilege to be entrusted with Mark’s life’s work and look forward to further developing the ACS Ltd business, as it very neatly complements H&P’s existing lines of commercial aviation, business jets, cargo charters and music tours.

“The ACS Ltd purchase mirrors our earlier acquisition of the music tour specialist Premier Aviation (UK) Ltd, which has consistently produced a significant contribution to the H&P Group.”

Premier Aviation this year celebrates the 24th anniversary of its founding. Read IQ’s 2017 interview with director Adrian Whitmarsh and broking manager Lizzy Templer here.


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3 decades and 125+ tours: Premier Aviation at 23


How have the past few years been for you, and how is 2017 shaping up?
Over the last couple of years (2015–16) we looked after more than 30 tours – pretty much 1,000 sectors – across all continents, including many of the top-ten highest-grossing tours and last year’s №1. This one particular tour was over a three-month period, involving seven or eight different aircraft and over 65 sectors, including bringing members in and out from various destinations throughout the course of the tour.

Now in our 23rd year, we are over the 125-tour mark. In the early days there were just one or two tours a year, but now some years there have been as many as 20, from VIP airliners through to small jets, with many regular clients in the top-ten grossing tours of all time. This year is shaping up much the same, with touring already underway in Asia, Australia and New Zealand. We are currently working on the logistics for several other major tours and many smaller ones.

Summers are busy, when we are all flying out to different airports to oversee the VIP procedures in order to ensure the transfers through airports are as smooth and discreet as possible… made difficult in this day and age with every airport worker trying to get selfies!

How has the industry changed since you started out?
From my perspective, I think the primary point is that artists are touring more than ever and truly globally. I have seen a lot of new markets – once called emerging markets – mature and end up on most itineraries. Of course some drop off due to political instability, but those newer markets then want a wider variety of talent.

With the demise of regular major-label tour support to promote recorded material, artists have to get out and promote their own records.

I also think that with TV ‘talent’ shows preoccupied with ‘singers’, it’s harder from musicians and bands to get exposure on TV. As a result, it has enabled some of the longer-established artists to continue being the big draws for live events – and it’s really those artists that are global ticket sellers, so tours get planned over maybe a two-year period around the world. Inevitably, they soak up a lot of ticket sales revenue; however, it has created a hunger for live events which has been good for the newer artists, too.

If you look at the demographics of a major stadium artist’s audience, you’ll often find the age range is from young teens to pensioners. That means those younger audience folks will want to see their generation of artists live, and so it spreads the demand. Of course, we have also seen a huge increase in festivals, which have created new seasonal touring itineraries.

It’s amazing the workload involved in coordinating each airport transit of a major world-famous artist

What’s been your favourite tour in your three decades in business?
Its difficult to single out one favourite. Several come to mind because of the clients themselves. I have been involved in every Genesis air-charter tour worldwide and many of Phil Collins’s solo tours; it was interesting reading his recent autobiography, which brought back some memories. Likewise reading Bruce Springsteen’s autobiography, as I have been involved in every one of his tours of Europe for the past 32 years.

In a different genre, Luciano Pavarotti was a very special client – very charismatic and appreciative. We flew many personal trips for him also, and it was a great honour to coordinate the many flights for his memorial concert in Petra, Jordan. The Three Tenors concerts around the world were magical and I was lucky enough to be invited to their very first public show, in Monte Carlo.

Over the last decade AC/DC became very good clients. They are very down-to-earth folks, including their families – some of the most appreciative and personable people I have ever worked with. Sting has also been a very loyal client ever since Live Aid in 1985, which was the first time I was involved with his travel.

The important point with all of those clients is that it became a close partnership with their tour management and often the artists themselves. It’s very rewarding when a client appreciates one’s advice and enables us to provide exactly what we always set out to do from day one: the best quality service in private air travel. It is a service where expectations are rightly high, but it requires a level of dedication, expertise and customer service in all aspects of aviation to deliver that. It’s an incredibly complex service, but I hope that we make it look easy – it’s a bit like being a swan: calm and serene on the surface but paddling like mad underneath! Over the years I have met and worked with many wonderful people, several of whom I now count as friends.

Have any of the recent political surprises – Brexit, President Trump – had an effect on your business? Are customers more worried now about their ability to easily tour other countries?
Brexit may well have an impact, in that British operators may not have the current unrestricted access to the EU market for flight permissions. Currently any EU operator can fly commercially anywhere across the EU, including domestically within any EU state. If, as currently expected, the UK pulls out of the EU single market, then UK operators may no longer have those rights. This could mean we are unable to use UK operators so easily for European tours. It could also mean that many British-registered aircraft will move to other EU countries of registry, with the consequent loss of business for the UK. It remains to be seen, of course.

Premier Aviation, along with our now parent company, Hunt & Palmer, have always been very active within our aviation industry associations. I myself am involved on flight operations committees and thus we are able to keep abreast of all matters affecting our industry and have an influence on issues. We are well known within the international aviation community, enabling us to work closely with airports, handling agents and aircraft owners and operators. This is vital when it comes to such things as security or political risks, especially since we fly clients worldwide.

How Brexit will affect visa requirements remains to be seen, too, of course. Will it be more difficult for European artists to play in the UK? Will British artists require permits to work within the EU? What about the tax and customs implications for their equipment?

As for the Trump effect, time will tell. However, we live in an increasingly risky world, which is why it is important for us to advise clients on secure travel, including airport security issues. We have always been intimately involved in organising airport transit arrangements, coordinating with all links in the tour travel chain: promoters and their own local security; artists’ personal security and ground transport; airport security. With the latter, perhaps surprisingly, we usually find we have to advise them of the potential security and public order risks involved with high-profile artists transiting through their airports. It’s amazing the workload involved – and importance – in coordinating with artist’s personal security and airport security for each airport transit of a major world-famous artist. So, now more than ever, its important to point out how the use of private aircraft travel, properly organised, can minimise the risks and provide security as well as privacy for travel.

It’s an incredibly complex service, but I hope we make it look easy. It’s a bit like being a swan: calm and serene on the surface but paddling like mad underneath!

As to whether all these issues will affect clients’ concerns about touring, overall I feel the main point is that most artists need to get out and play live. They will certainly look carefully at where they will tour. For example, the Ukraine had been on many European tour itineraries until the hostilities. Likewise, Russia has dropped off of most tours in recent years, for a variety of reasons. Many artists have certain political or moral standards and so are reluctant to visit certain countries as a result.

However, it seems that where one territory drops away another is found to replace it. Of course, much also depends on the economic climate as well. Exchange rates definitely play their part in that. For example, US artists earning income in UK pounds or euros will see a fall in their dollar equivalent or, conversely, it will be more expensive for British and European promoters to contract US artists. Conversely, UK artists’ euro or dollar incomes will be worth more, so it will be good for UK entertainment exports.

What’s the biggest challenge facing a travel company like yours at the moment?
Heightened security requirements in Europe, with terrorist incidents and alert. Last year France suspended EU borderless arrangements, checking all passports on arrivals and departures, even on intra-Schengen flights.

Airports are increasingly restricting night flights, which makes it more difficult to fly artists after show to their next destination.

We have also seen touring group sizes increase, so availability of suitable larger-capacity corporate-layout aircraft is often an issue. And, as previously mentioned, the as-yet unknown issues from Brexit are likely to be a challenge in the coming years.

Finally, you say in 23 years Premier Aviation customers have never missed a show. What’s your secret?
Attention to detail! Careful choice of suppliers and careful planning. Our expertise, resources and ability to respond at short notice to any eventuality.


Adrian Whitmarsh is director and Lizzy Templer broking manager at Premier Aviation UK Ltd.