“We’re a small company,” Jan states. “But that means we can be very agile when it comes to changing our business direction. When the pandemic hit, we almost exclusively performed medical and repatriation flights.”
With most of the aircraft in the fleet equipped with ambulance equipment, Jetflite was well-prepared to support the health crisis: “We helped out during the Ebola crisis a few years back,” Jan explains. “So we already had an isolation unit available.”
Although medical flights are a part of their core business, these weren’t the only initiatives the company got involved in for COVID-19.
“With a number of government contracts in place, we also focused on repatriation flights – getting people back to their home countries before the borders were closed,” Jan elaborates. “In addition to that, we’ve recently been looking into increasing our cargo business. There’s a lot of demand in supplying protective gear from Asia to Europe and North America right now. We’re more active from a logistics side, but we’ve managed to acquire some bigger aircraft to accommodate this demand.”
Enhancing the aircraft portfolio due to COVID-19
When asked about some of the missions, there was one that Jan chose to highlight: “We recently acquired a new Bombardier Challenger 650. It went straight from the factory floor to perform 100 hours of flight in just 14 days.”
The aircraft flew across three continents in five days, starting in Helsinki, and flying to Portugal, Italy, Mali, the Canary Islands, Liberia, South Africa, the Seychelles, Afghanistan and Estonia – all on repatriation missions. But getting the plane off the ground was not without its fair share of challenges. With a number of restrictions already in place, it was tough getting it out of Canada, where it was built. In addition, the flight testing didn’t go as smoothly as desired, because most of the test pilots were not even allowed to enter the country.
“We got there eventually,” Jan says with a smile. “What’s exceptional is that we can change the format of the plane from a regular business jet to an air ambulance and vice versa. This set-up gives us the opportunity to add extra seats, so it can carry up to 18 people on board. This versatility helps us perform even more missions.”
Coming to terms with new challenges
The challenges of the new aircraft weren’t the only ones the company had to face. Jan talks about the many flight restrictions that were established as a result of the health crisis: “There are a lot. And it feels like they’re only increasing. They change so frequently that it often happens that the flight you planned yesterday, can’t even take off today.”
“That’s been the biggest impact so far,” he continues. “Once we’re able to fly, the stops are another challenge. There aren’t many places available for an overnight stay. Finally, our last big challenge is the aircraft ownership cost, since most of our regular fleet is grounded for the time being.”
Jan opens up more about business aviation in light of the whole pandemic: “The most important part is that we’re still here. And we’re still active.”
“For us, this has mostly been business as usual,” he concludes. “A lot of our flights before COVID-19 had a big impact for our customers already. It doesn’t really change what we do for the world. It’s a part of our duty call, and we proudly responded.”