UK: Private Yachts And Executive Aircraft: Should Gibraltar Be Making More Effort To Welcome Them?

Last Updated: 10 September 2013
Article by Ian Le Breton

In April 2011 I wrote about the use of executive aircraft (also known as "bizjets") and whether they should be considered as just expensive toys or are in fact justifiable business tools. I came to the conclusion that, even given the hugely depressed market conditions that we were experiencing at the time, there were several good reasons why, in the right circumstances, their use by company executives could be viewed as beneficial and therefore justifiable.

So two-and-a-half years on and with the economy in somewhat better shape in certain areas I thought I would re-visit the subject but this time also with an eye on the water-based equivalent – the superyacht.

Recently I had the pleasure of chairing the Second Gibraltar Superyacht Forum. The forum included its fair share of corporate back slapping and self-promotion that one expects at such events but nevertheless we came to the inevitable conclusion that, as an industry, we needed to do far more to attract these super sleek vessels – and their owners – to Gibraltar. No one has yet held a "bizjet" conference in Gibraltar but I would imagine the conclusion would be broadly similar.

That is not to say that we do not see superyachts and bizjets regularly here in Gibraltar. In fact I am able to indulge two of my passions – spotting interesting aircraft and yachts – from the same terrace without moving a muscle. And of course Marina Bay is soon to feature the luxury floating "yacht hotel" Sunborn, which aims to attract thousands of highly affluent guests every year.

But why do they come to Gibraltar and should we not be encouraging their owners, or at least their skippers, to stay a little longer? We should of course respect people's right to privacy but we might guess that many of these jets are flying in business leaders and entrepreneurs to discuss or sign deals. That is after all the whole point of our attractive commercial legislation, advantageous tax regime and strong professional services sector. But there are many other possible reasons. I know of one famous sportsman who simply uses our airport as a convenient stop off on his way to play golf at Valderrama. Still others may be heading for the playground that is Marbella, just 50 miles up the cost.

No matter the reason, these aircraft are generally delivering wealthy human cargo to our little bit of the Mediterranean. The conclusion we reached at the Superyacht Forum was that, in contrast, many of the superyachts we see here are more likely to be taking on fuel and other supplies rather than carrying their owners to Gibraltar as a destination in its own right. This must be a wasted opportunity.

Gibraltar may not offer the razzmatazz of St Tropez or Monaco (would we want it to?) but there are excellent facilities available at Marina Bay, Ocean Village and Queensway. And for business aircraft, the airport's excellent Wessex Lounge now boasts state of the art facilities although we remain some way from offering full facilities – known as FBO – to visiting aircraft, their owners and crews.

Gibraltar's yacht registry has an excellent global reputation but we cannot register aircraft here. By way of comparison, the Isle of Man has grown from a standing start into one of the world's largest "bizjet" registers in just a few years. And the Channel Islands are planning to pick up some of this action when their own register opens in Guernsey later this year.

But are there really that many corporate jets around? Well yes actually. Brian T Richards director of Sovereign's aviation division, RegisterAnAircraft.com, tells me that in any one year, new jet registrations around the world can be numbered in the hundreds. It may not sound a lot but when one bears in mind that these sleek machines can cost several million pounds – and in the case of Gulfstream's new flagship G650, upwards of 40 million sterling – one quickly begins to appreciate the industry's potential for high grade business.

Are yachts the same as jets? Can they really be categorised as business tools, especially in these straitened times when all forms of corporate excess are frowned upon? I guess the answer depends on the use to which one puts such an asset. One can pootle about in a yacht – as Miranda might say: "good word that, 'pootle'". The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as "moving or travelling in a leisurely manner", which was first coined in the 1970s as a blend of "poodle" and "tootle".

No matter, you can definitely pootle in a yacht. As a former private pilot myself I'd strongly suggest not pootling in the air – it is highly likely to ruin your day. Put simply, jets or their turboprop cousins can get to places quickly – often faster and more efficiently than a scheduled flight. But even the fastest superyachts are going to take considerably more time getting from one place to another.

In my 2011 article I used an example where a group of six people needed to travel from Gibraltar to Nice. By coincidence I now find that I need to travel this very route next month with a couple of colleagues as we are due to represent Sovereign's marine arm, RegisterAYacht.com, at the Monaco Boat Show, which is a train ride from Nice. What a palaver it is to get there! There are several options but all involve a stopover in both directions.

In the end we decided on Barcelona – by a curious and commercially cockeyed bit of planning, that city's annual boat show is on at the same time as Monaco so we get two for the price of one – but to do this we need to drive to Malaga in the first place. How much more efficient it would be if the three of us could simply be whisked directly from Gibraltar to Nice by a bizjet in little over an hour with – if my Finance Director is reading this, please note! – the requisite helicopter transfer at the other end to put us down in Monaco.

So to finish, I'll make a suggestion as to what we might do to attract these people and their "toys". The "double move". Why not specifically target those wealthy individuals or captains of industry who are in the fortunate position of owning (or at least having access to) both a corporate aircraft and a yacht? The latter could be moored down here semi-permanently and the owners could fly into our new airport any time they like – from anywhere in the world.

Is that a realistic proposition? Why not? It's already happening in a discreet way. You won't necessarily read about it in the Gibraltar Chronicle but it is happening – I know because some of our clients do just this – but we need to attract far more. How we best to go about this is the question – and one that I am happy to leave to the experts. There has already been a great deal of public investment in our airport and private investment in both our marinas so we should all work hard to attract more of these wealthy people and their entourages. After all wealthy people spend money so it has to be beneficial all round.

The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.

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