Thomas Flohr Takes Private Aviation to New Heights
Talk about a passion project. In 2004, Swiss businessman Thomas Flohr launched VistaJet, a subscription-based program that offers high-flying members the use of private jets around the globe. Since then, he’s watched it grow from a small company to one of the world’s leading global aviation companies.
In 2019, Flohr pushed the envelope again: this time with XO, the digital brand that allows users to book private flights and seats on demand right from their mobile device.
Together, VistaJet and XO have disrupted the industry and helped push Flohr’s parent company, Vista, to the forefront of the private aviation sphere.
According to Forbes, reports issued by credit rating agencies Moody’s and Fitch show Vista’s revenues increased by $700 million in 2021 to around $1.6 billion in January 2022, and this was before their acquisitions of Jet Edge and Air Hamburg.
“We have delivered all-time record-breaking figures as a result of the huge demand for our subscription, membership, and on-demand offerings,” Flohr told Forbes of the company’s overwhelming success. “There is clearly a paradigm shift in the global client’s view of private aviation, and Vista’s world-leading position has enabled clients across the globe to experience its benefits as a critical mobility solution. Vista’s shared economy, asset-light, and subscription strategy are accelerating this trend.”
The Thomas Flohr Takeover
The globetrotting entrepreneur began with just two aircraft in his fleet, and by the end of 2022, Vista is set to own more than 350. (Over the years, it has acquired Bombardier Global 7500s, Global 6000s and Challengers, along with super-midsize and large-cabin jets from Vista’s acquisitions of Jet Edge and Air Hamburg.) In March, Flohr told Forbes he was committed to “expanding our fleet at a time of unprecedented demand for business aviation services,” adding, “Our vision is to provide the best services, anytime and anywhere, for every customer.”
The brand has branched out digitally as well. As Forbes reported in January, Vista said 84% of XO flights last year were booked online through its marketplace. With XO, members can buy and sell unused seats on crowdsourced flights and single seats on scheduled flights that operate between private jet terminals. “I see mobility as the next trend for luxury,” Flohr told Barron’s. “Executives want to be as efficient as possible and as mobile as possible. It’s very technology driven.”
Flohr remains as driven as ever to break new ground. “[It’s about] maintaining a startup culture even if you end up expanding into a large global company and scaling up,” Flohr told C-Suite Quarterly in 2019.
He credits his team with helping him stay on top. Flohr describes his colleagues as “entrepreneurially minded experts in their field” and says collaboration is crucial. “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,” he explained to CSQ.
How It Started
Flohr himself was a frequent flier before he left his job in asset finance. (He’s said he still travels about 250 days a year.) He told CSQ he noticed some glaring inefficiencies within the world of private aviation — and a ripe opportunity to dive in and shake things up.
“Being an entrepreneur and striving for the best, you are always looking for the next opportunity to disrupt a market,” he said. “Our industry was too fragmented, technology was beginning to make its way into the sector, and yet at the same time, there remained a huge disconnect between the large amount of supply and high demand in the market.” (Flohr estimates commercial planes are used around 4,000 hours a year, while private jets are utilized just 250 hours per year.)
He wanted to create an interconnected ecosystem. “So, I established Vista Global to create a network that manages the industry better, more efficiently, for operators and for customers,” Flohr said.
There are a lot of moving parts, but it works. “We’re introducing the latest and most innovative technology, managing successful on-demand operators, operating a live marketplace, while continuing to seek the best growth opportunities globally, albeit with different brands,” Flohr explained to CSQ. “VistaJet is the asset-light alternative to aircraft ownership, while XO is the digital marketplace for on-demand flying. Our goal,” he added, “is to make flying privately simpler for everyone.”
Vista has shone exceptionally bright in the Middle East. In the first half of 2021, the region witnessed an increase of 153% in flight hours (far surpassing the 76% growth in North America and 41% in Europe), and Dubai was Vista’s No. 1 location for global flights. As Gulf Business reported, the Middle East was said to have seen a 100% year-over-year increase in the number of new VistaJet Program members between January and June 2021.
Flohr says the appeal to the Fortune 500 crowds is simple. “If you own your plane, you can take it anywhere. If you enter into a subscription contract with us, you can have access to our airplanes anywhere around the globe — identical to aircraft ownership, but at a much lower price point,” he told Gulf Business.
The experience may be more affordable, but not at the expense of comfort. “The vast majority of our fliers are people who are looking for an efficient and time-saving way to travel,” Flohr told CSQ. “Our flights, particularly through our VistaJet business, ensure a home away from home for our fliers. 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.”
The seat-sharing option provided by XO is as convenient as it gets. “If we have fliers that don’t need to book a whole aircraft, then they can book a seat on an existing flight and share with others,” he told Business Airport in late 2019. “It means that flying is even more efficient and accessible for everyone involved.”
In January, Flohr told Forbes he predicts the “thriving” demand for private aviation — which has been at record levels since June 2021 — will not change for at least the next 12 to 18 months. Vista will be there, ready to fly. “Business leaders are no longer sticking to their comfort zones,” he told CSQ. “They’re moving into new frontiers and markets that have rarely been explored before. People are always looking for new opportunities and they can’t always do that in their backyard anymore. Private aviation gives them that flexibility.”