Rebecca Johnson: Leading JETHQ to easen aircraft buying

Established in Dubai, UAE, to assist customers in the emerging markets of the Middle East, Africa, and the Indian subcontinent, JetHQ has over the years expanded their footprint with strategic locations to assist customers in the Western Hemisphere, as well as emerging markets.

Building on its international sales growth of the past year, JetHQ has targeted expansions throughout Africa, bringing its aircraft services outside its established office in Egypt. The aircraft transaction and brokerage company has focused on underserved markets on the continent, finding success in Côte d’Ivoire among other locations.

JetHQ’s success in the region has been part of a year-long expansion drive. It created its Africa sales division early in 2020, headed by Rebecca Johnson, President of JetHQ EMEA (Europe, the Middle East and Africa) and brought aboard Dubai-based Kani Saritas to assist in the markets, specializing in north and west Africa and South Africa. Later that year, the company opened its Egypt office, led by Sherif Abouzeid to cover east Africa.

A customer-centric business

CEO Magazine had a virtual meeting with Rebecca Johnson, a pilot by profession, who is the sales president for Jet HQ, an airplane brokerage firm that buys and sells used airplanes and provide consultancy, maintenance, and support for airplanes.

“Our company started in Dubai where our founder used to live, but then we expanded it all over the world. We chose Dubai because it is a nice location that is open for all nationalities, easier to get in and out and also do trade. We just opened an office in Cairo to facilitate North and Eastern Africa states. As the business grows in Africa we might open offices in either South Africa or even in West Africa,” says Rebecca.

“As a company we find that it is important to have people in Africa on the ground. We have had positive report from down there and that was a big milestone for us,” she adds. Some of the company’s recent successes is a transaction involving the Ivorian military. Rebecca says that her company is not shy of transacting business in Africa as difficult as it may seem to others. “We are not afraid of doing transactions that may be difficult, or one that may require time,” she adds. What makes JetHQ unique is that it is even willing to go into an area that other companies don’t have experience in or don’t want to go to. “We devised a mechanism that is going to work well for the customer,” Rebecca explains. “We are working on a couple of other transactions in Africa, and we are dividing them according to who best can handle the client, who speaks the language or who has the most contact.” Everything is tailored to suit the needs of the client, according to Rebecca. Even where the client is only confident transaction in Dubai, JetHQ is flexible to accommodate their needs. “We do what the client wants,” Rebecca emphasizes.

That includes having a pilot and technician in the country, working with our partners after the sale, training to get the most return from their investment. We’re able and willing to go places other companies just aren’t.

Target customers

Aircraft business is not child’s play. As a comparison, possible prices start from US$3.5 million for a used Cessna Citation M2, US$7 million for a Learjet 75, US $62 million for a Gulfstream G650, and US$50 million for a Bombardier Global 6000. These are prices that are out of reach for many of the continent’s citizens. Even in the developed nations, jets are exclusive properties of high-net-worth individuals or corporations. So how JetHQ does picks its customers?

“We have three types of customers. There are the governments which are always needing aircraft, we have companies who are always using their aircrafts for transportation and then we also have simply private individuals- people who have decided that they need an airplane for themselves,” explains Rebecca.

Winning in the aircraft industry, given its limited clientele require a unique approach. Rebecca tells us that the difference is having professionals who are there, who know the culture and know the needs of client. “We can be on location that day to answer questions, assess aircraft for purchase or sale and meet face-to-face to make personal relationships and overcome any obstacles in the transactions. These clients have not previously received this level of service when it comes to aircraft transaction.”

The President of JetHQ EMEA clarifies that before one opts to buy an airplane, the customer needs to ask three questions that will help them choose the right aircraft: What is your budget? How many people do you travel with? And where are you going?  With those three questions answered, the company is now able narrow it down to the type of plane that they can offer you.

“I usually tell people if you have a budget to start with, stick with it, we will find you something for that price. You don’t have to stretch your budget so much. It is really important to know how many people you are travelling with in order to know how many seats are needed and where you are going in order to know the amount of gas and the stop overs.”

In terms of demand in the type of aircrafts, Ms. Johnsons reckons that they see a lot more demand for what they call the ‘midsize jets. “We have small jets for like 6 people and go for smaller ranges. Then we have long range jets that are meant to go anywhere in the world with maybe one stop. There are also the midsize jets, and this is where we see a lot of activities because you can cover a good amount of distance with it.”

Identifying the right plane for customers

Getting the right plane for customers, particularly in the used-market segment, can be as tedious as looking for a pin in a haystack. “We have so many people buying airplanes and it’s getting harder and harder to find a good airplane. You can always find a pair of junk, something that’s not well maintained but getting a good airplane is becoming harder nowadays,” narrates Rebecca. She reveals to us that the work of finding planes is undertake by members of the back office who make it their duty to find airplanes that have not been advertised and contact owners interested in selling. 

Once the planes have been identified, the buck is passed to the marketing team which now finds interested buyers. Ted Farid, Chairman of JetHQ, has brokered business aviation deals around the globe for 50 years and has been instrumental in developing connections with government-affiliated buyers that blossom into full-service transactions. In its penetration in Africa, Dubai-based Kani Saritas assist in finding clients in north and west Africa and South Africa while Sherif Abouzeid, working from the Egypt office, works to meat client needs in east Africa.

“JetHQ has the resources and connections to make transactions easy for our clients,” Johnson said. “That includes having a pilot and technician in the country, working with our partners after the sale, training to get the most return from their investment. We’re able and willing to go places other companies just aren’t.”

Covid-19 accelerate aircraft purchases

According to the airline brokerage firm, they have had a huge influx of buyers purchasing airplanes at the start of the pandemic and that a few things are driving that, one is the uncertainity of the airlines and the ability to travel.

“If I own my own airplane i can control where I want to go and I don’t have to rely on an airline schedule. Second is the sanitation, health and safety, in your own airplane you can control who is in it and it is easier to follow the set health guidelines,” explains Rebecca.

“The other area is irrespective of the pandemic is people security. We find high net worth individuals feeling like it is not safe for them to use public air transport. We always see those type of individuals buying private jets and now with the pandemic we have seen many first time buyers,” she adds.

Industry, Rebecca reveals that Covid-19 also triggered a fresh wave of interest from new market entrants. According to her the downturn in airline activity and the demise of many airlines, or route reductions, led to a major increase in interest in aircraft acquisitions, creating more opportunities for JetHQ and others in the field.

Future of private air travel

The private aviation market is broadening. More concept buyers – a term used to describe people who have never purchased an aircraft – are entering the market. Additionally, existing owners are wanting to upgrade their aircraft via trade.

Right now, demand is high, but supply is low. Brokers are chasing aircraft deals and, if an owner hints at a coming trade, multiple buyers are making bids on the aircraft months in advance of sale.

Worldwide, there are approximately 20,0000 business aircraft – not enough to meet the needs of new and existing buyers.

The airplane brokerage company points out that they are now seeing a shortage of aircrafts available for sale. “That is good because it means our business is doing well but on the negative side it means that we can’t serve as many customers as we wish,” she clarifies.

All in all, the president for JetHQ, Europe Middle East and Africa President is confident that they are a growing company and believes that they are in a very good position to hire people in target regions to enhance capacity to offer bespoke customer-service to customers.

This feature appeared in the December 2021 edition of CEO Business Africa magazine. You can access the full digital magazine HERE

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