When charter jet operators told the Stratajet chief, Jonathan Nicol, it would be impossible to start a real-time, online booking platform because of the variables involved, the challenge set him off on a four-year mission to do just that.
Tell us about your career so far It’s been varied.
After A-levels I went into the RAF, where I was selected to fly Panavia Tornado GR4s. I was then seduced by the Army Air Corps [Boeing] Apache AH-64 programme and found myself at Sandhurst military academy for army officer training.
It was decided I should be sent on a tour commanding soldiers. I was selected to command a troop of Desert Rats, so in 2000 I headed around the globe, starting in Kosovo.
In 2004 I left the military and took a sabbatical to start Promotional Staff UK (PSUK), which is where I found the next passion in my life – business. The company did exceptionally well, and launched my career as a start-up chief executive. After 11 months at PSUK I was recalled to the army for a tour, which flowed nicely into my next startup, Oxford Computer Information Systems (OXCIS).
I had plenty of free time during the company’s development phase and spent some of it flying Cessna Citation CJ2 business jets for Hangar 8 [now part of Gama Aviation]. While in the CJ2 one day, the idea for Stratajet came to me – a real-time, online business jet booking platform. The project has taken more than four years.
What about your current role?
As the chief executive of a tech start-up, the role always encompasses a lot of things but, essentially, mine started around building the code base. That said, we’ve quadrupled the size of the team in three months, so I’m increasingly taking on a leadership role. One of my main focuses is to build a 12-strong sales and marketing team.
We have been very fortunate at Stratajet in that a great number of very talented people want to work here.
Why launch Stratajet?
Someone had to. Private jets are the last form of transport not readily accessible in price and availability. Every other form of transport, from bikes to scheduled airlines, is instantly bookable – yet ironically, the most convenient form of transport can take two days to book.
The business aircraft charter market is hugely underdeveloped, with 0.001% of travellers [routinely] using private aircraft, compared with 5% in [airline] business class. Stratajet can open up this market to many more, and by removing the broker, we are able to offer business aircraft at much lower prices.
“While in the CJ2 one day, the idea
for Stratajet came to me”
But the real determination for Stratajet – which has kept me going for four years – was the reaction of operators at EBACE in May 2011, who categorically told me it could not be done. They believed there are too many variables in the pricing of flights – from aircraft costs to landing and handling fees – that are constantly changing.
How could anybody resist the challenge? You can imagine my elation at the end of last year when it all came together.
What are your biggest challenges?
The biggest challenge is making it clear we are different from private jet quoting companies. In recent years companies have come into market claiming to provide online and real-time bookings for private jets. I have yet to see one that offers anything more than giving the consumer the ability to request a quote via email.
The consumer gets a raw deal because, as soon as they request a quote, they have to wait – sometimes days – to get prices back. This form of quoting is obviously incapable of making efficiency savings based on real-time scheduling.
It has been a real problem for operators because it is so simple to request a quote from a website. Other companies are putting a tremendous strain on operators by forcing them to respond to quote requests, when the person requesting it could be a 14-yearold at the back of a classroom who is curious about the cost of private jet travel.
This challenge is overcome once we explain to operators they only ever get bookings from our system – never quote requests.
What do you enjoy most about your job?
Leading the team and seeing them getting as passionate about Stratajet as I am.