Will private aviation ever fix its empty legs problem?

Dec Connolly Editor

Email business@thebusinessjournal.co.uk

A new platform claims to offer operators a way to fill their empty legs – but will it really be the solution operators need? 

Private aviation has an empty legs problem. They’re bad for business, sustainability and public perception of the industry. Yet private aviation also has an empty legs opportunity. They could be the answer to increased commercial opportunities, a faster way to fulfil rapidly rising consumer demand, and a significant step towards greater sustainability – if they can be filled effectively. 

So why are aircraft operators still struggling to find a practical solution to fill their empty legs – especially given the rise in platforms and service providers that claim to have the answer? 

The issue with empty legs 

It’s estimated that between 30-50% of private jet flights don’t carry any passengers. This high number of ‘dead’ flights was one of the biggest arguments used by the Labour party when it sought to ban private jets from UK runways on environmental grounds back in 2019 – and it continues to be a contentious topic today, in the UK and beyond.

With the private aviation industry continuing to address its fuel consumption (it has already reduced its carbon footprint by 40% in 40 years, with a target to halve emissions by 2050). Therefore, filling empty legs should be an obvious way to tighten up fuel efficiency. If an operator is flying from London to Jeddah to collect passengers, why not use that flight to transport passengers who want to travel from London to Cairo, or even somewhere else enroute or nearby? 

Operators secure another paying charter, brokers fulfil their customer request, and the passenger gets to where they want to go. It should be a win-win situation, and in a data-driven, internet-powered ecosystem, it should be easy. 

Yet as everyone in private aviation already knows, it isn’t. While there are some operators who email a list of their empty legs to their own database of brokers, it has a limited impact: exposure is restricted to the brokers they know, which reduces their chance of selling their empty leg.

Why aren’t ‘empty leg’ platforms working?

To say that existing platforms aren’t helping to fill empty legs at all would be unfair: there are now more opportunities for operators to advertise their empty legs, and they are, sometimes, being utilised. However, they are not having the revolutionary impact that the industry so desperately needs if it’s going to tackle the problem once and for all. 

The more you drill down into how these platforms work, the easier it is to see why the empty leg problem still hasn’t been fully addressed. 

Firstly, many of these platforms put the onus on the operator to advertise their empty legs, which is far from practical – it’s yet another source of organisational workload, alongside running a fleet, responding to flight requests, dealing with operational issues and liaising with brokers to secure full-paying charters. It then falls to brokers or passengers to find these flights, in the hope that they fit the times and dates they need. Other platforms, meanwhile, allow brokers to post their flight requests to multiple operators in order to receive quotes: again, it creates a lot of work for the operator.

As a result, existing platforms neither offer a huge return for operators, nor a practical option for brokers and their clients. Then there’s the issue of pricing. Current platforms either post fixed prices set by the operator, price estimates or ‘static bids’ that can change wildly upon confirmation, or no prices at all – just flight details with pricing available on request. This causes problems for both operators and brokers alike: it’s more difficult to arrive at competitive prices and secure a charter if pricing is not transparent. 

Is there a way to make ‘empty legs’ a thing of the past?

According to Zaher Deir the founder of AeroBid, a new platform that launched in April this year, there is a solution that could transform the way the industry fills empty legs – but can it really succeed where others have failed?

AeroBid is a live platform, which is already available to Operators and Brokers. It uses data and instant communications, and has a smart alert system, allowing operators to be notified of any charter request in any geographical location or airport they wish to know about. Deir believes every one-way charter request could be a potential empty leg for an operator to fill. It’s all about knowledge, planning, transparency, and communication. And AeroBid has all these features built-in. 

In their own words, AeroBid “brings a fast, transparent and convenient way for brokers to request charters for their clients, and for operators to receive and bid on live flight requests.” It wasn’t created solely to fill empty legs, but the way the platform works can help operators do just that.

On the platform, brokers can submit detailed flight requests, including dates, aircraft specifications, destinations and special requests. Operators can view live flight requests on the AeroBid Marketplace and can also choose to receive instant notifications by SMS or email. Operators can then choose the most relevant flights and bid anonymously, in real-time, for the charter. When it comes to empty legs, it allows operators to search specifically for requests that fill those flights. 

Most importantly, AeroBid offers broader geographical search options. Rather than searching for specific airports, operators can search and receive alerts by country (or by state in the US), widening their search parameters to access more broker requests. 

For instance, take a UK operator flying from London to Singapore on a one-way charter. Once they drop off their passengers, the empty leg back to London will have the potential to be filled at any of the countries on the route back to London: all they have to do is set up the smart alert system on AeroBid for the countries on that empty leg route. This can be planned in advance, giving the operator a head start. 

The platform is designed to deal with thousands of requests in real-time, creating a useful tool for operators and brokers alike. Of course, the success of AeroBid depends on reaching a critical mass of users, creating more opportunities for all parties.

But does AeroBid really have the potential to eradicate empty legs for good? Its founder and CEO, Zaher Deir, tells us: “It’s unlikely – but we could well reduce them dramatically. By allowing operators to easily find requests that align with their empty legs, they don’t even need to signpost that they are filling a ‘dead’ flight – they would simply be fulfilling a broker request as efficiently as possible. 

We knew that adding our geographical search and alert feature would take us a step closer to making this a truly viable solution for operators, and we’re excited to see where it leads.” 

Having launched in April this year, AeroBid is currently in its onboarding phase: its user base is growing rapidly, but only time will tell whether the platform will have a significant impact on empty legs. To find out more about AeroBid and how it works, you can visit their website: www.aero.bid