DALLAS — Klasjet is yet another carrier that has joined the growing list of airlines offering aircraft, crew, maintenance, and insurance services, simply known as ACMI. The Lithuania-based charter airline ventured into ACMI earlier this year and already has a fleet of five Boeing 737 NGs for the above segment.
Klasjet, founded in 2013, was set up with the objective of providing VIP charter services with a fleet of modified Boeing 737 classics, but given the growing demand for ACMI, the carrier has diversified its business and is looking at a fleet growth of up to fifty aircraft over a five-year period.
The carrier belongs to the aviation conglomerate Avia Solutions Group, which owns a variety of aviation-based services from multiple ACMI airlines, including MRO facilities, consultancy, and flight training services.
Justinas Bulka, CEO of Klasjet, talks to Airways correspondent Siddharth Ganesh about the growing demand for its VIP charter services and the new venture into ACMI.
SG: Beginning with your original operations, how has the growth been from 2013 to recent times in premium charter and corporate travel (also post-pandemic)?
JB: Our growth direction in the very beginning was for premium charter and corporate travel. In 2013, our flights were carried out with regional jets with a passenger capacity of 20. In 2017, we embarked on an expansion plan and acquired our first Boeing 737-500. It was a strategic shift, and by 2019, we had added more 737-300 and 737-500 aircraft.
During the pandemic, we had five aircraft, of which two were grounded. But coming into the current year, we have positioned ourselves very well.
We have witnessed record-breaking growth and are very optimistic about the outlook going into 2024. We’re seeing high client retention in addition to ongoing referrals for new business, which is a very positive sign.
Justinas Bulka, CEO KlasJet
When we received these aircraft, we refurbished them completely on the inside – wooden interior, increased seat pitch and decor, etc.
We also put up different liveries on all our aircraft and it actually helps when a client asks for a specific color, we have that.
What is your present-day market?
Right now, we are doing 70% in Europe, 20–25% in the Middle East, and the remaining 5–10% in Africa and Asia. In summer, we have high demand in Europe and we focus our aircraft here.
But during the winter, when demand drops, we send a few aircraft to the Middle East, like Dubai or Abu Dhabi, and base them there. We have a flexible base concept, where we move our aircraft based on demand and contract. We want to add five more VIP aircraft to expand to further continents. Middle East is a priority. If we get permits then even the Americas.is on our list.
|Year||2014||2015||2016||2017||2018||2019||2020||2021||2022||2023 (8 months)|
|Passenger Grand Total||375||1.144||1.645||3.714||8.086||29.316||6.573||11.579||19.201||21.351|
And what happens to your operations during the low season?
In the low season, which lasts from November to March, we do see a decline in demand and we take certain measures to deal with this. One such is to move out aircraft to other areas – like the Middle East. Something else that helps us during the low season is our partnership with sporting clubs and teams.
Most sports season starts in September, so this allows us to run operations with cash flow due to yearly contracts.
Justinas Bulka, CEO KlasJet
For example, we have a partnership with one of the major French Ligue football teams and the rumor went out and more teams wanted to try us. We have partnerships with Spanish clubs, and basketball teams and we also want to enter the English Premier League soon, I believe by this year end. Nearly 50% of our clients are sporting clubs. Sporting events are always happening one after the other, they use us on an ad-hoc basis or even yearly contract based.
What’s one major challenge you face compared to a regular airline?
Primarily, we do not have a fixed base, so our crew in the office or HQ should be alert and ready to prepare flights at the last minute and also deal with different providers, handlers, and suppliers in many countries. So, we must react fast. If somebody wants to fly tomorrow, we must adapt and make sure we are ready to deploy the aircraft by then.
We invest a lot in our cabin crew training to deal with different cultures and client fears and keep them comfortable. One such story I recall is that we had a nervous client prior to takeoff, and the crew understood he really enjoyed playing chess, so the crew made time to play a game of chess with him prior to takeoff, and it made him feel more relaxed. The crew are trained to the highest standard to cater to our passengers.Justinas Bulka, CEO KlasJet
This summer you made a big move and commenced ACMI operations, also with the Boeing 737 NG. Comment?
We belong to Avia Solutions Group, and they are the largest ACMI provider in the world. We see a big demand in this market, and we decided to venture into ACMI in 2022 and commence operation this year.
We focused only on Boeing 737-800s with full-economy ACMI (186 and 189 seats). We now have five 737-800 NG under ACMI flying today; this is in addition to our VIP charter Boeing jets. We are waiting for three more 737-800s to be delivered before the end of the year, so a total of eight are secured.
Within five years, we want to grow up to 50 aircraft in total. Ten of these will be in the VIP segment and up to 40 in the ACMI segment. The market is squeezed due to high demand, so it is challenging to find aircraft. Ideally, we would like to add about 10 aircraft each year.Justinas Bulka, CEO KlasJet
Would you say it would be a challenge to run ACMI and Customized VIP charter together?
There are two aspects to consider here. The first is that we belong to Avia Solution Group, so we have synergy and essential support from them, which is a vital factor for us to achieve what we aim to do with the VIP segment and ACMI.
The second consideration is the team; we need the right people. I am very happy and proud of my team. We value our people; we want them to
grow, and then our airline grows.
Featured image: KlasJet