Alexander Robinson

Virgin Galactic Space Travel

One small step for a spacecraft, but, a giant leap for space travel

July is a big month for private space travel. Yesterday, Sir Richard Branson traveled into space, to “evaluate the customer spaceflight experience” aboard Virgin Galactic‘s VSS Unity. In nine days, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos will travel into space aboard his commercial space travel company’s, Blue Origin, first flight.

Both flights offer slightly different experiences, with one being a spaceplane and the other a pure rocket. They are similar in that they herald in a new era of space travel where private citizens can be space tourists, or as the companies market the trip, astronauts. Historically, the coveted astronaut title and experience has been exclusive to government entities (cosmonauts – Russia, taikonauts – China). Which is why, although Virgin’s VSS Unity and Blue Origin’s New Shepard may be simply seen as incremental spacecraft developments, they represent a larger shift in our planet’s spacefaring capabilities.

The Experience

Virgin Galactic’s maiden flight involved a ‘mothership,’ named VMS Eve, conventionally taking off from Spaceport America in New Mexico, with VSS Unity mated beneath. Just below 50,000 feet VMS Eve released VSS Unity which ignited its hybrid rocket engine for 60 seconds, accelerating to Mach 3.1 in order to reach its maximum altitude, or apogee, of 86 kilometres (nominally the company aims for 90 kilometres).

Stages of flight Infographic 2 .jpg
Virgin Galactic flight profile

While transitioning through apogee, the vessel’s six passengers may unstrap and experience micro gravity for a few minutes before settling in for a unique deceleration involving folding wings, and a human-guided descent and landing back at Spaceport America about thirty minutes after take off.

VC01_84.jpg
Virgin Galactic’s carrier aircraft VMS Eve and VSS Unity

Blue Origin’s trip is a vastly different experience. New Shepard is a fully autonomous rocket (i.e. no pilots), launching vertically from Blue Origin’s site in Texas like a conventional spaceflight for a 150-second rocket burn. When the fuel is expended the motor and fuel stage separate from the crew capsule, which continues to an apogee of just over 100 kilometres. Up to six passengers enjoy lie-flat seating with an almost panoramic view during their brief ten-minute journey. On descent, a parachute system brings the capsule back to land.

Blue Origin’s Mission NS-15 lifts off from Launch Site One in West Texas

Spaceflight

The two companies have both gone to lengths to validate that their trip is legitimately “spaceflight,” rather than simply high altitude. Blue Origin defines this as the internationally recognised Kármán line, 100 kilometres above Earth’s mean sea level. Virgin Galactic, however, use NASA’s and the US Air Force’s 80 kilometres above sea level as the boundary between Earth’s atmosphere and space. Regardless, at either vessel’s apogee, there are no aerodynamic forces, and passengers and pilots alike are for all intents and purposes in space.

Whether a space tourist has earned the title of ‘astronaut’ is a matter of opinion. Technically, they have met an altitude criteria, but culturally, historically, and from a competency perspective a space tourist is not a professional astronaut. A space tourist will, however, need to have reasonable wealth to travel aboard either company’s offering. A ticket aboard Virgin Galactic’s flagship costs USD250,000, and Blue Origin’s experience is similarly priced, although not known exactly. As both systems mature costs may reduce.

What about Elon?

As an encore to July, September will see the launch of SpaceX’s Inspiration4, a proven Crew Dragon vehicle, for the world’s first all-civilian space ‘mission.’ Although SpaceX’s founder, Elon Musk, won’t be aboard – the experience has been paid for by Jared Isaacman, a successful entrepreneur and founder of Draken International, who has assembled a crew of three others, their backgrounds and ambitions reflecting the “mission pillars” of Hope, Generosity, and Prosperity (along with his of Leadership).

At a soon-to-be announced launch date (~September), Inspiration4 will launch into low earth orbit on a Falcon 9 rocket, from NASA’s historic launchpad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center. Over three days the vessel will remain in orbit, with no specific mission but tourism.

The cost of the entire mission, going by SpaceX’s public list price, is upwards of USD62m – although the details have been kept private. All crew members will undergo reasonably extensive commercial astronaut training through SpaceX, including orbital mechanics, operating in microgravity and zero gravity environments, stress testing, emergency preparedness training, mission simulations, and learning about the Falcon 9 launch vehicle and Dragon spacecraft systems.

Recruit your own 'crew' for the private Inspiration4 space mission with  this new fundraising campaign | Space
Rendering of Inspiration4, with a crew member peering out of the customised cupola in place of the standard docking port.

Winter in the Whitsundays

Australia’s Whitsunday Islands, a collection of 74 tropical islands off the coast of Queensland, is less well known and less travelled than the Caribbean, but arguably more natural and unspoiled.

Whitsundays is the perfect Winter destination.

Iconic with its crystalline Whitehaven Beach, turquoise water, Heart Reef, calm seas, and hilly archipelago, the winter dry season offers respite from the cold south-east with an average daily temperature of 24 degrees Celsius, and clear skies.

Throughout the islands, visitors are spoiled for choice in terms of activities and options. These include self-directed sailing around the chains, guided sailing tours and island transfers, island hopping via seaplane, or simply relaxing the premium accommodation and cuisine available at the luxury and boutique resorts.

Getting there

Hamilton Island is the largest and most central of the islands, and the most convenient way to enter the Whitsunday Islands by air. The island’s airport, known as Great Barrier Reef Airport, handles regular scheduled flights by major domestic airlines from major eastern cities, and is a full service airport capable of all manner of private and business aircraft.

Hamilton Island Airport
Hamilton Island Airport

Alternatively, Whitsunday Coast Airport (also referred to as Proserpine Airport) is a thirty minute drive from the town of Airlie Beach, the mainland gateway to the Whitsundays and often likened to a tropical version of Queenstown, New Zealand. Again, Proserpine Airport is a major domestic airport, handling a range of scheduled services and suitable for private and business jet aircraft.

What to do

From arrival by air, visitors are spoiled for choice in terms of how to enjoy the islands. Options include self-directed sailing around the chains, guided sailing tours and island transfers, island hopping via seaplane, or simply relaxing the premium accommodation and cuisine available at the luxury and boutique resorts.

Where to stay

Qualia and Elysian Retreat are two of the finest resorts in the islands.

Opened in 2007, Qualia, on the northernmost part of Hamilton Island, has won numerous awards and accolades for its luxurious service and exquisite cuisine. The name means “a collection of deeper sensory experiences” and the private resorts strives to blend nature and luxury in a seamless, memorable way. As one would expect, guests have a range of options available to them during their stay – from spa treatments, reef exploring, sightseeing, island hikes, or simply enjoying the resort.

Qualia Resort Hamilton Island
Qualia Resort Hamilton Island

The resort hosts its own helipad, allowing direct helicopter transfers from either Hamilton Island’s airport or Proserpine. Alternatively, guests can sail to Qualia, or take swift VIP road transfers from Hamilton Island airport.

Elysian Retreat is the most secluded island retreat in the Whitsundays, tucked away on Long Island, home of the Molle Island National Park. Elysian. An eco retreat and the first solar powered resort on the Great Barrier Reef, Elysian is positioned on a private cove with a rocky beach, surrounded by rainforest, with no other habitats on the island. The resort caters to only a handful of guests at any time, and offers a locally sourced custom menu, personalised organic spa treatments, and local guided adventures or the facilities to simply enjoy the island tranquility.

Elysian Retreat Whitsundays
Elysian Retreat

Getting to Elysian is via scenic helicopter transfer from Proserpine, Hamilton Island, or Airlie Beach.

Another quintessential Whitsundays resort is Hayman Island, the most northerly of the Whitsunday Islands, and a private island famous for its luxury resort – now named the InterContinental Hayman Island Resort. Although the island’s first resort was opened in the 1950s, the resort was significantly renovated and upgraded in 2011. These improvements gave Hayman Island a botanical garden as well as private villas to complement the main resort and premium facilities.

InterContinental Hayman Island Resort
InterContinental Hayman Island Resort

Getting to and from the island is again part of the Whitsundays experience, with the resort offering private charter helicopter, seaplane, or aboard a luxury powered yacht.

Coming Up

Late winter hosts the Hamilton Island Race Week, one of Australia’s largest offshore regattas featuring a range of racing, super, and sports yachts competing on the tropical waters. While the Whitsundays are wonderful to visit any time of year, for sporting excitement and an opportunity to see high performance race crews and their nautical equipment competing, Race Week is one of the best opportunities worldwide.

Barrier Reef Airways’ Short Sandringham flying boat at Hayman Island, 1951.

How to book

Airly simplifies private jet charter via transparent pricing and innovative products to make flying private more accessible.

Reach out to the Airly Member Care team here or via WhatsApp for your next trip and experience the difference for yourself.

The price of a private jet to the Whitsundays does vary depending on your departure point and how long you’ll stay.

To book a private jet from Brisbane to Hamilton Island budget $16,000-$30,000, $25,000-$30,000 from Sydney and $35,000-$45,000 from Melbourne.

Wheels UP

Wheels UP – The making of an aviation powerhouse

“Wheels up” is a phrase used in aviation to describe the transition from take off landing gear down configuration, to airborne configuration with landing gear, or wheels, retracted. It’s a phrase that evokes progress, speed, and of being on a journey.

Thus, it’s fitting for a pioneer in business and private aviation to be named as such. Wheels Up was founded in 2013 by three New York-based founders. Their founding goal was, and still is, to reinvent private flying through a “revolutionary new business model that delivers the safest, most consistent, and highest -quality aviation solution.” This article explores what that means to members and travellers, the pioneering journey that Wheels Up continues to track, and the company’s leadership in shaping an industry.

“You can’t fail, you pivot.”

Kenny Dichter, Wheels Up Founder & CEO

Wheels Up is a leader in private aviation. And, the brand and legacy it forges only makes sense by looking at its founder, Mr. Kenny Dichter. A successful entrepreneur and businessman, Kenny Dichter made his first millions in 1998 through the sale of his college-founded Alphabet City Sports Records, a label focused on songs often heard in sports stadiums and arenas. In 2001, Dichter co-founded Marquis Jets, the world’s first fractional card private jet program. By 2007, the business was turning over USD700 million per year with 3,500 customers, selling private jet access in 25-hour allotments. That same year, Dichter predicted that Marquis Jets would grow into a billion-dollar business within three years.

In 2010, Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary company, NetJets, acquired Marquis Jet. Marquis Jets’ innovative, accessible, and flexible ‘jet card’ model bolstered NetJets’ fractional ownership business model. Within two years, NetJets proceeded to place the largest aircraft order in private history, for up to 275 Bombardier aircraft, valued at over USD17.6 billion.

“Rule Number One: Never lose money.

Rule Number Two: Never forget rule one.”

– Warren Buffett

Although the 2010 sales terms of NetJets’ acquisition of Marquis Jet weren’t disclosed, it’s probable that Dichter’s 2007 prediction was realised, with NetJets reporting significant sales increase that year. Today, both Marquis Jets and NetJets continue to operate, with the latter the clear private jet fractional ownership industry leader.

Growth

After selling Dichter took a ‘break,’ founding the highly regarded and cult-like Tequila Avión. Pernot Ricard, the premium liquor portfolio company, increased its ownership of the esteemed tequila brand to a majority holding over a few years.

Wheels Up on Twitter: "Who's excited for @entouragemovie? #WheelsUp # Entourage #EntourageTheMovie http://t.co/gAvX9KBsfd"
“I thought you were in that Avion Tequila deal?” – HBO’s Entourage

In 2013, Dichter along with two co-founders, returned to aviation entrepreneurship with the launch of Wheels Up. The co-founders simultaneously announced their management team along with a USD1.4 billion order for 105 Beechcraft King Air 350i turboprop aircraft. In disrupting and creating new markets, Wheels Up’s business model was premised on a membership / on-demand business model, servicing non-hub commercial services.

Since founding, Wheels Up has gone from strength to strength in under a decade. Within a year of launch the company had over 1,000 members and close to 40 aircraft (King Airs and Cessna Citation jets), and by 2019 the company had over 5,500 memberships (individual and corporate) and owned nearly 100 aircraft.

Importantly, Wheels Up continues to succeed through challenging the industry’s norms through Dichter’s entrepreneurial attitude, manifested in business model adjustments. Although founded on an entirely new premise of membership-based flying access, in 2018 Wheels Up announced a new flight sharing membership offering, Wheels Up Connect. The goal of Connect was to “democratize private flying” by further reducing the unit cost to access the benefits, efficiencies, and economics of business jet aviation. Despite Wheels Up closing 2020 with 10,995 active members and USD690 million in revenue at the end of 2020, they estimate that “90% of people who can afford to fly privately don’t,” or more than a million people in the US, and forecast their 2021 annual revenue to grow to USD912m

Create. Don’t Compete.

The last several years have seen Wheels Up manoeuvering to capitalise on this untapped blue ocean of private aviation travellers. In 2019, the same year that Wheels Up announced their goal of 16,000 active members by 2021, the company started a strategic acquisition spree to bolster their charter operations and membership management platform. Acquisitions included included the Travel Management Company (TMC Jets); Avianis, a B2B communication platform for operators and brokers; Gama Aviation Signature, the largest Part 135 charter operators in the USA; and Mountain Aviation, the largest Cessna Citation X fleet charter operator in the United States.

Blue Ocean Strategy vs Red Ocean Strategy
Blue Ocean Strategy vs Red Ocean Strategy , © Chan Jim & Renee Mauborgne

The underlying logic behind Wheels Up aggressive growth is simple – the company needs aircraft (supply) to meet the untapped private aviation demand. Dichter told Forbes earlier this year that the company will continue to serve the wholesale market and supply the growing demand for members. To fund this exponential trajectory, Dichter has executed what appears to be an astute two-stage plan.

The first stage saw Delta Private Jets, Delta Air Lines’ private aviation subsidiary, merge into Wheels Up and bringing Delta’s 70 aircraft into Wheels Up’s fold in 2020. This merger saw Delta Airlines take a majority stake in Wheels Up, and granted them a board seat.

The second stage of strategic funding is a shrewd twist on Dichter’s previously reported preference to pursue an initial public offering (IPO). In February, the company announced a special-purpose acquisition company (SPAC) merger with Aspirational Consumer Lifestyle Corporation. By merging with a SPAC, Wheels Up is expecting to achieve an “enterprise value of about USD2.1 billion,” and cash proceeds of USD790 million, without negotiating the traditional IPO process.

The winner is…

Having a successful, proven, serial entrepreneur in Kenny Dichter, who is clearly passionate about general and private aviation, and recognises its unrealised potential, is an incredible opportunity for the industry. Travellers benefits through new and more accessible means of transport, at improved value; while the aviation industry benefits from positive disruption, bringing about improvements and progress.

Wheels Up are an industry leader, and Kenny Dichter an incredible change agent.

Wheels Up’s Cessna Citation Excel / XLS
Learjet

End of an era: Vale the Learjet – long live the business jet

They said I’d never build it; that if I built it, it wouldn’t fly; that if it flew, I couldn’t sell it. Well I did and it did and I could.

William P. Lear, founder of the Lear Jet Corporation, and designed of arguably the world’s first business jet.

On February 11, 2021, Bombardier, who purchased the Learjet company in 1990, announced an end to production of all Learjet private jets. This marks a sad milestone for aviation, for it heralds the end of an era. For decades, since the company’s first aircraft, the Learjet 23, the name Learjet was synonymous with private aviation, business aviation, and aviation leadership.

While the Learjet name may be consigned to history, fortunately business and private aviation manufacturing, innovations, and business models continue to thrive.

Learjet 75 Liberty
Bombardier Learjet 75 Liberty

History of Lear Jet

The first Learjet 23 was delivered in 1964. It was the brainchild of inventor, businessman, and high-school drop out William (Bill) Lear. Over 46 years Lear was granted over 120 patents, contributing significantly to radio and aviation. He is, however, best known for creating a new category of fast and efficient business jets, and a brand that to many is the definition of a business jet. Before Lear Jet there simply was no business or private jet category – VIPs, states-persons, and celebrities that could afford to fly privately were limited to airliner-type aircraft.

The Learjet 23’s genesis began in Switzerland in the 1940s, where the Flug- und Fahrzeugwehrke Altenrhein (FFA) company was developing a domestically designed and manufactured fighter jet – the FFA P-16. The P-16 was never introduced into service and the program cancelled in favour of the proven British Hawker Hunter – but Bill Lear saw promise in the aircraft’s fundamental design as a business jet, having previously and unsuccessfully based preliminary designs on a US experimental aircraft named the Mississippi State University XV-11 Marvel.

In 1960 Lear founded the Swiss American Aircraft Corporation in Switzerland and began work on the initially-named SAAC-23 Execujet. In 1962, frustrated by slow progress in Switzerland, Lear moved SAAC’s factory tooling to Wichita, Kansas and renamed the company the Lear Jet Corporation. Production began in 1962 with the first flight of the Learjet 23 taking placing the following year. On October 13, 1964, the first production aircraft was delivered and over a two year production run 101 Learjet 23s were delivered.

The Learjet makes sense
Aviation Week – 5 July 1965

Learjet Legacy

Fast forward 25 years, and it was the Learjet 31 that ultimately delivered on Lear’s vision of the definitive business jet.

Only 200 Learjet 31s were produced between 1988 and 2002, with many of these still in service. Often referred to as “the Porsche of the sky,” the 31 combines the empennage-mounted engine design with the distinctive “Longhorn” wing configuration. With seating for eight passengers, the jet is capable of climbing at over 5,000 feet per minute, reaching cruise altitude of 47,000 feet and 0.81 March in 28 minutes. A service ceiling of 51,000 feet puts the Learjet 31 in rarefied air. With efficient fuel consumption and field performance, both the Learjet 31 and the slightly upgraded 31A are still favoured by many passengers and operators today.

Learjet 31
Learjet 31

Having sold a significant portion of his company to the Gates Rubber Company in 1967, the Gates Learjet Corporation was acquired by Integrated Acquisition in 1987 and renamed the Learjet Corporation. In 1990, Bombardier Aerospace purchased the company and initiated a clean-sheet design and marketing of the “Bombardier Learjet Family.”

Celebrating the legend of the Learjet

The Learjet 60 was the first of this new lineage, followed by the Learjet 45. Similar to how the 31 revolutionised business aviation, the Learjet 45 fused the operating economics of a light business jet with the comfort of a mid-size jet, while remaining true to Learjet’s excellent performance. The Learjet 75 is the final jet to bear the Learjet name, with first delivery having taken place in 2013 and production ceasing this year.

Learjet 45
Learjet 45

The future of business aviation

The end of the Learjet marque is nostalgic, but should not be seen as a bellwether for the business aviation industry. For several decades, the business and private aerospace industry has been increasingly fragmenting – offering a relatively small pool of consumers an excessive amount of aircraft options. By comparison, the commercial aviation sector has consolidated to effectively two manufacturers – Airbus and Boeing. The private jet industry has several – Bombardier, Cessna, Dassault, Embraer, Gulfstream, and even Airbus Corporate Jets and Boeing Business Jets. For reference, Airbus and Boeing delivered 723 aircraft in 2020, while global business jet deliveries numbered 644.

Consolidation is a natural part of the evolution of any industry as technologies advance and market expectations grow.

Jensen & Copier, The Pros and Cons of Industry Consolidation, OEM Off-Highway, 31 Aug 2020

The business aviation industry is likely behind commercial aerospace in terms of industry consolidation maturity. A Deloitte 2017 analysis of the merger and acquisition trends in aerospace and defense anticipated (generally) that “aerospace and defense companies would increasingly look to M&A (and joint ventures) as a means to grow, specifically by expanding product portfolios, gaining new technical capabilities, and expanding into new geographies.”

Deans, Kroeger & Zeisel, The Consolidation Curve, Harvard Business Review, Dec 2002

This industry consolidation is good for operators, owners, and travelers, in bringing cost efficiencies and technological advances together. Competition is healthy, and we can expect there to remain a handful of business jet manufacturers; but some consolidation in a high-capital, regulatory intensive, and difficult to enter industry is beneficial for all.

While the brand may not be seen on aircraft beyond this year, over fifty years of Learjet’s innovations and progress will continue to serve Bombardier’s business aircraft competitive advantage, and deliver value to operators and travelers.

Learjet 35A
Learjet 35A