Elite athletes – golfers, footballers, rugby, tennis players and cricketers, are used to the fact that private charter (six to 60 seat jets) is their optimum form of air travel, enabling them to keep fully in control of itineraries. Covid-19 hit the airline industry hard with regular airlines still a long way off resuming full pre-pandemic schedules. The first sector to recover was charter.
Without it, many international sporting events simply would not have happened, as teams of 40 players or more, plus support staff and equipment, relied on aircraft charters to keep their sporting schedules running. Charter was also crucial during the Tokyo Olympics, with participating athletes required to stay in bubbles to avoid unnecessary contact with others. These past 18 months, working across five continents, we have embraced a wider, supporting role as Covid travel advisors, regularly dispensing advice to our clients on the rapidly changing requirements, providing close liaison on trip support, adhering to country restrictions as borders opened (and closed at short notice), and ensuring all relevant paperwork was presented or pre-arranged. We dispatched accompanying flight riders to liaise with airline/bizjet operators and airports on the spot, enabling team operations managers to stay focused on players and support staff.
After 18 months of disruption, charter is soaring as the go-to solution. It’s being used more widely too – by both men’s and women’s teams, equally, who have turned to charter over-scheduled services. We have facilitated several long-haul flights bringing international football players back from their international duties at World Cup Qualifier games, ensuring they make it back to their domestic club matches in the fastest time possible.
In addition to national and league football teams, rugby charter flights have also increased, fulfilling requirements from the United Rugby Championship (formerly Pro 14), European Champions, Challenge Cups and Super League.
We have provided increasing numbers of charter flights to national Rugby Union teams for their European competition matches, where aircraft like the 90-seat Embraer 190, readily available, with good operators, is ideally sized, modern and reliable. The competitively priced 70-seat ATR72 turboprop has also proven to be a popular option for short-haul rugby flights.
Outside the regular professional teams that entrust ACC Aviation with their domestic and international travel, we recently arranged an all-business class Boeing 737 to fly a world renowned boxer, accompanied by his management team, friends and family, to and from a fight night in Atlanta. The aircraft was parked and staged at a private terminal in San Antonio, TX, where media and press gathered to receive the passengers on arrival and departure.
We work with specialist travel management companies (TMCs) to provide fan travel solutions, anywhere in the world. In one such instance, we flew 250 fans from Mexico City to Moscow, when the original flight provider become unavailable hours before their original scheduled departure. We were able to source a last-minute replacement aircraft and deliver them to the ground four hours ahead of match start. With the Qatar World Cup in 2022, we are in advanced talks with many teams and travel providers seeking creative and well priced charter solutions. Some teams and fans may prefer to stay in Dubai or Abu Dhabi and just fly in for matches, another degree of flexibility our USA, UK and UAE offices are able to advise on. Whatever your travel requirements may be our teams are ready to provide you with independent expert advice.
Charter scores in many ways.
- Covid bubbles – flying solely as a team reduces exposure to infection from unknown passengers.
- Time saving. A typical European domestic rugby/football flight can be completed inside an hour. For longer trips into Europe, time savings offered by direct charter between host and visiting teams’ local airports can cut the entire journey in half removing typical check in time, time spent waiting for bags, time spent on transfer.
- Use of private, FBO terminals, away from the main hubs with security clearance and other formalities carried out away from the glare of iPhones. Some airports have invested in processes allowing team coaches to go straight to the aircraft for boarding.
- The ease of putting everyone and everything on one aircraft delivers ultimate flexibility.
- Custom inflight meals can be prepared to suit players’ dietary requirements.
- Managers can give preparation talks in the privacy of their own cabin and physio applied inflight – pre- and post-match.
- Private charter keeps players rested. The stress-free travel experience makes a huge difference to performance on the ground – as many tennis and golf pros who have used charter for decades will testify.
Having facilitated charter for 20-plus years and flown thousands of sporting flight hours, we are pleased to provide the full spectrum of best quality charter aircraft that are available, through our highly experienced professional teams, and international office network.
Jamie Harris, ACC Aviation President, Americas contributed to this commentary.