Embraer Executive Jets CEO Michael Amalfitano has gone from daily crisis management meetings to seeing clear signs of an improving market, driven by those who have never tried business aviation before, according to remarks he made to CFBAA members during the October Speakers Series moderated by Offland Media CEO Chris Quiocho.
Amalfitano said first-time buyers during a normal market would constitute about 10-15% of prospects but in today’s market is at 50%.
Signs of Recovery
“We all know we had a dip but no one is talking about the activity we are seeing and the fact we have already rebounded to 2019 levels and fractional ownership is up 12% beyond 2019,” he said in the first CFBAA Speaker Series webinar which was sponsored by Viasat. “We are seeing a strong resurgence in interest in the U.S. and Western Europe. A few things stand out with first-time buyers, the most important of which is they want fewer touch points compared to the airport, security, gate lounges, aircraft and rental car experience with airline travel. They are saying they’ll be more confident if there are fewer touch points and that’s the experience they have with private aviation.”
He noted several trends including the flights booked are shorter in distance and data suggesting a shift away from airlines to private aviation to meet short-term travel needs. There is strong evidence this recovery is starting from the entry-level jets.
Teams Are On the Road
“Our sales teams are active now, increasing engagement with customers and demonstrating our aircraft across the country,” he told members. “We recognize a flurry of activity from first-time prospects and this has driven a new way to engage with customers. These new customers require a lot of education not just about what is important to their health and security, which is currently peaking their interest, but about all the choices available to them and the business case for business aviation.”
Amafitano also noted Covid challenges manufacturers to find personalized solutions for education and sales. To that end it has created a series of 12 videos called Beyond the Wings showcasing the technology used for health and safety but also to educate the market beyond those in business aviation. In addition, it is creating invitation-only webinars giving customers and flight departments open access to company experts who are not normally in the process.
“This virtual engagement has only 10-12 prospects who have access to our technical experts such as our chief engineer,” he explained. “The audience can interact with experts to ask questions about why something was designed or how customers drive design. You have to make it personal and do something you cannot do in person. It becomes and personal connection with the company, something we are missing during the pandemic.”
EEJ also posted virtual tours of aircraft on its You Tube Channel.
“Our four-minute Praetor tour has already had 160,000 views,” he noted. “You also have to remember to give back by stressing our commitment to pivoting our company to manufacturing medical supplies. Our seat manufacturer in Titusville, our facilities in Portugal, the U.K. and Brazil all manufactured to support PPE and then were transported on our KC-390 cargo aircraft.”
Indeed, that is what drove the creation of the company’s Phenom 300 Medevac configuration. EEJ is using digital tools to explain health and safety considerations such as the HEPA filters deployed in business aviation and how air is circulated aboard aircraft.
“This is important because a 2019 survey of millennials showed 79% are loyal to those companies that demonstrate how much they care about their customers and the environment,” he explained. “In addition, half of consumers have changed their habits to benefit the environment. The technology we have in business aviation is about sustainability and that trend will only increase. Sustainable Aviation Fuels are getting a lot of attention, but we want to go beyond that to create a sustainability platform taking care of all aspects of aircraft and operations.”
Asked whether the shift from commercial to business aviation will be sustained, Amalfitano said the pandemic is reshaping travel.
“We may see a reduction in travel but that human need to connect will always be there,” he said. “Some connections can be handled digitally but there are many decisions and trends impacting how people will travel. Right now, the paradigm shift is more anecdotal such as more cards being sold than normal but we are working to sustain that. We may see a shift from commercial to business but the courage and resilience we see in the marketplace is a big part of it. Buyers have a real fascination with technology, on health and safety, on sustainability. We are able to deploy that faster to the market than airlines.
“Our OEMs are healthier. The question is how to sustain it once commercial has recovered,” he continued. “That is why we have our Pulse Concept to create the travel concepts of the future which can come to market faster. You can’t do that in the commercial arena. It’s a different world out there and it is our intention to lead from the front.”
It all comes down to confidence, he told CFBAA members. “We have to build a track record of confidence,” he concluded. “We have to provide education that allows them to be more confident in making the decision to buy a jet card or a new aircraft. Communications is a big part as we adapt to a different world. If the market sees you walk the talk, it starts to have confidence that allows for a systemic shift that is more long lasting. We have to stop focusing on what is normal. Instead we have to make our own normal.”