Customers consider canceling private jet orders as flight embarrassment escalates

Just weeks after French billionaire Bernard Arnault announced he was selling his private jet to avoid climate-shaming trackers the head of luxury goods group LMVH. A Bombardier executive says the Canadian manufacturer is seeing an increase in customers considering canceling or postponing orders. They ask what Bombardier and the industry are doing to be more sustainable.

Speaking at the Corporate Jet Investor conference in Miami, Ève Laurier, VP of Communications, Marketing and Public Affairs, told attendees that the Montreal-based OEM has customers who are concerned about closing deals.

He says the recent crescendo of negative headlines is causing customers to ask more questions about sustainability. Some of that pressure comes from their own families. And he says the problem isn’t limited to Bombardier.

The annual gathering attracts around 800 senior industry executives from aircraft manufacturers such as Bombardier, Textron and Embraer, flight operators NetJets, Flexjet, Vista Global and Wheels Up and other big names from engine manufacturer Rolls Royce to Gogo Business Aviation, the which offers in-flight connectivity.

Speaking on a panel titled “The Path to Sustainable Aviation”, Laurier told delegates: “The perception problem is accelerating. We have customers calling and thinking about canceling their planes. There is a huge perception problem.”

So far, no orders have been canceled and Laurier says Bombardier welcomes tough discussions. It says it allows OEMs to explain initiatives from their Environmental Product Statements to cabin interior options using sustainable materials and the ability to use SAF, sustainable aviation fuel, which can reduce carbon emissions by up to 80%.

For example, he says, one candidate told the company that his children were worried they would be “embarrassed at school” about their father’s private jet.

After a visit to the company’s production line and seeing firsthand how Bombardier is working to make private flying viable, Laurier says the father went ahead and ordered the plane, one of the Global 7500s that sell for about 75 million dollars.

While the recent press hitting everyone from Arnault to Kylie Jenner to Taylor Swift has increased attention, it’s something the company was ready to deal with.

“There are two kinds of comments. There is the comment about tracking. This is new and creates new pressure. But this generation of young people coming up was always worried,” he says.

Laurier adds that while the negative attention is “difficult,” it’s beneficial to have the conversations. “The younger generation, they have sustainability at the forefront and it’s influencing their parents, so it’s important to welcome them and answer their questions and be extremely transparent.”

Earlier this month, Bombardier and Signature Aviation announced a multi-year agreement to purchase SAF based on the Book and Claim system. The agreement covers all Bombardier flight operations starting in January 2023. The OEMs’ decision will reduce annual greenhouse gas emissions from fuel by approximately 25%.

So far, the flight embarrassment hasn’t cost the company any deals. “People say, ‘what can we do?’ Still, at the end of the day, Laurier says Forbes, “People who want to fly private keep flying private.”

During the same conference, Patrick Gallagher, Chairman of NetJets, a unit of Berkshire Hathaway, told the audience that the fractional share provider has sold out all delivery seats until 2024. The offers are backed by non-refundable deposits of 20%. It expects to add 100 new private jets to its fleet by 2023.

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