Why the ‘Digital Health Passport’ will send air travelers jetting for private options

Just a few months ago, news of a “digital health passport” (DHP) allowing only those who have received a vaccination to travel would have raised alarm bells around the world. The idea that an instrument as intrusive as a chip or barcode that tracks our most private health data would be virtually mandatory would have seemed to most like an unconscionable invasion of basic rights, including the right to privacy and the fundamental right to live, move and work freely.

Today, however, governments and big businesses are lining up behind this very instrument. This presents a serious dilemma, particularly to businesses who must decide whether they should compel employees to take a vaccine that has no track record or forgo the critical need to travel by air. Fortunately, as the models governing the economics of private air travel continue to evolve, the third way of private air travel is increasingly becoming a reality for many business leaders.

When news of two successful vaccines broke, the world—and, more than almost anyone, the badly hurting air travel industry—breathed a collective sigh of relief. But almost as soon as the fanfare started to settle, more unsettling news followed. The proposed creation of a digital health passport (DHP) draws in many of the “betes noires” of American public life, including privacy, highly personal medical data, controversies about vaccine safety, and the age-old American debate of freedom from government interference in our lives.

The question is, to say the least, fraught. But despite this, the DHP is rapidly becoming a foregone conclusion as government, air travel authorities and the air industry (each with good reason) seek to create and implement processes and policies surrounding the DHP as quickly as possible.

But this presents a bind, particularly for businesses that depend on air travel and are eager to get their employees back in the sky. Companies in industries as diverse as construction, real estate development, farming and agriculture, consulting and coaching, gaming, politics and energy depend on fast and efficient travel to carry out core operations. For these businesses, the logistical labyrinth of air travel in the COVID era is not just an inconvenience but a major impediment. Layering in serious moral and legal questions of compelling employees to take the vaccine and give up privacy rights by signing up for a DHP so they may fly only serves as a force amplifier to the already huge levels of complexity they’re facing. 

Because of these new headwinds, many people are turning away from commercial air travel and towards novel private air. A study in Private Jet Card Comparisons found that almost three-quarters of private jet passengers are flying private in order to minimize exposure to the virus. Nearly nine out of ten (87 percent) of new and returning private aviation users cited COVID-19 as a main reason they’ve gone private and just about two-thirds (63 percent) of existing private aviation users cite the same cause.

As passengers face a highly problematic new threshold—that of taking a vaccine they are wary of and opening their most private data to a cross-section of government agencies and big businesses—the number of people turning to private air travel is bound to surge. But amid this increase in demand, we have a dearth of meaningful options for private air travel. 

Utter the words “private jet” and you instantly conjure up images of billionaires, celebrities and CEOs of transnational companies living the good life at 40,000+ feet. And for good reason. Private jet ownership is prohibitively expensive. Beyond private ownership, the once-innovative jet membership programs have grown ill-suited to a business environment that demands speed, unfettered access and flexibility. These programs, whose model was developed some 30 years ago, employ cost structures that don’t allow for the kind of easy, fast and financially feasible private air travel most businesses require. 

We’re all familiar with the famous cliche about the relationship between necessity and invention. What’s often overlooked is that the necessity part of the equation is rarely, on the face of it, considered to be a positive force. This is the trend we’re seeing unfold in air travel. In the pre-COVID-19 world, innovative models like fractional ownership were an interesting idea to consider. Now, they’re essential. Propelled by a massive influx of people who have never flown private but, now facing hurdles like the DHP, are turning to private as the only realistic option, these models are evolving before our eyes. 

The surge of retirement-aged Americans represents turning to private flight, the rise of bi-local businesses, upcoming access to personalized terminals being built in various airports, and a carefully calibrated cost structure that leverages the value of fully refurbished aircraft are all converging to make this model a transformative force for aviation.

Over the past months, we’ve become keenly aware of the many tragic consequences of this pandemic. It’s disrupted our lives, separated us from loved ones, caused economic havoc and put our health at serious risk. Now, with the DHP now becoming a bar to commercial travel that many are simply not willing to meet, the case for re-defined private air travel has never been stronger.

Cory Bengtzen is the Founder and CEO of CB SkyShare, a private aviation company that dramatically simplifies private flight by providing premium, personal customer experiences for every type of modern traveler. An accomplished pilot with multiple certifications, Bengtzen founded CB SkyShare in 2009 and has built the Western U.S.-based business into a full-service aircraft operation that includes the premier jet-share program in the West, worldwide aircraft acquisition and sales, jet charter, FBOs in multiple states, and comprehensive maintenance and repair facilities.

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