Thomas Flohr is breaking new ground in the world of private aviation. “I love to challenge the system,” the Swiss billionaire and head of Vista, which owns VistaJet and XO, told Barron’s in 2020. “If something doesn’t make sense, it’s a natural inclination to challenge it.”
The businessman had been working in asset finance when he noticed there was some serious room for improvement in the private aviation industry. One issue was that many planes weren’t being used often enough to justify costs. “The average utilization of a business jet is 250 hours per year — talk about waste and corporate waste,” Flohr explained to Barron’s. “Commercial planes are used around 4,000 hours a year, so I thought, ‘What are these airplanes doing?’”
In 2004, he launched VistaJet, which allows customers to subscribe and pay a fee to use private jets from a sizable fleet around the world. With VistaJet, corporate and individual clients — many of whom are Fortune 500 movers and shakers — enter into a tailored, flight-hour membership plan. “[It’s about] guaranteed availability as an alternative to ownership,” Flohr said.
During his time as a frequent flier, Flohr had also noted inconsistencies with the aircraft he was boarding. “Working in a large corporate environment gave me access to the world of private air travel,” Flohr told C-Suite Quarterly. “Immediately, I was struck by the huge variation in standards and quality — there was no definite in what you were going to meet on the tarmac. I could see there was a gap in the market to create a premium, cost-effective, simple, and standardized model for all fliers globally,” he said, “which is why I started VistaJet.”
The Thomas Flohr Experience
Flohr set out to create a jet experience like no other. “People are moving away from the aircraft itself being a luxury. Ten to 15 years ago, just the aircraft itself was the luxury,” Flohr told CSQ. “What we’re now seeing are customers who want their discerning lifestyle carried into the aircraft cabin itself. The customers are more demanding and continuity needs to be delivered.”
Comfort is key. “Our flights, particularly through our VistaJet business, ensure a home away from home for our fliers,” he explained to CSQ. “VistaJet is continually flying the world’s leading CEOs and boards across the world — what we provide them is a time-saving way of travel that completely removes stress and hassle. Our role is to ensure they can get to the right meetings on time and in comfort.”
Along with XO, the digital, on-demand marketplace that allows users to charter private flights, Flohr is taking the exclusive aviation experience to a whole new level. “The ultimate goal of the new XO platform is to make flying privately simpler for everyone,” he told Business Airport International in late 2019. “We’re introducing the most innovative technology, managing successful on-demand operators, and operating a live marketplace, whilst continuing to seek the best growth opportunities globally, albeit with different brands.”
Accessibility is a big goal for Thomas Flohr, who’s keen on appealing to younger generations with XO and VistaJet and the forward-thinking concept of seat-sharing. “The biggest problem probably remains wasted flights and seats. With XO, we’re aiming to vastly reduce that,” he added.
There’s a focus on “bespoke, high-touch experiences,” Flohr told Barron’s. “It’s an entire change in thinking, which really started with the millennials saying it’s all about the experience, not about the asset,” he said.
Pushing the Envelope
Flohr has said Vista maintains a startup mentality despite its success. Though it began with just two aircraft, Forbes recently reported it is now on pace to own more than 350 by the end of 2022. (The fleet includes Air Hamburg, a major European operator recently acquired by Vista, Jet Edge, a major US operator also recently acquired, two 16-seat Challenger 850s that will be used for XO’s by-the-seat scheduled flights between New York and South Florida, as well as new Bombardier Global 7500s, Global 6000s and Challengers.)
“[A point] that led to the success of my companies is creating a good culture, maintaining a startup culture even if you end up expanding into a large global company and scaling up,” Flohr told CSQ. “I believe that it’s vital to encourage a collaborative company, where everyone is encouraged to generate ideas and where they feel they have a stake in the business succeeding — encouraging discussion and debate for the benefit of customers and the brand.”
The future looks bright. Flohr told Gulf Business his research indicates first-class seating is declining on commercial planes. He believes VistaJet and XO can help fill the void with luxury offerings at increasingly affordable prices. “Our intelligence tells us that a huge amount of the first-class capacity will be taken out of commercial airplanes,” he said. “There will be a significant reduction [of first-class seats] on many routes, and even on the routes where they remain, there are going to be much fewer of them available.”
He noted that VistaJet has been upgrading the cabin experience across its entire fleet in preparation. Flohr also told Forbes the demand for private jet flights — which hit record levels in June 2021 — will continue through 2023.
In early 2020, Flohr told Barron’s “the next trend for luxury” is mobility. “Executives want to be as efficient as possible and as mobile as possible. It’s very technology driven. They also want to know what’s out there, where the best restaurants are in every location. This is where I believe this industry is going,” he said. The Bombardier Global 7500 features a 17-hour range and connectivity to “the most remote places in the world,” added Flohr.
It’s a whole new frontier. “We want to do a lot of exciting things within the cabin to do with technology, in terms of Wi-Fi connectivity,” Flohr also told Barron’s. “We are doing a major collaboration with Collins Aerospace Systems, since we believe video conferencing is important to have,” he said, adding, “There shouldn’t be a difference between being on the ground and in the sky.”
Published by Samantha Brown