Commercial aviation is one of the sectors that were hardest hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Flapper, a Brazilian business aviation startup, is adapting to the new scenario where leisure flights are in sharp decline, but demand for aeromedical transport and the repatriation of people has grown.
The smaller number of scheduled international flights – which witnessed a reduction of about 95% in Brazilian airports – also made cargo logistic operators that used these routes to look for alternatives, including Flapper services.
LABS talked to Barbara Andrade, the startup’s CFO, about the strategy for the company that specializes in connecting users to air taxi companies in this new, turbulent scenario. The debut in Mexico, for example, was kept in the startup’s plans, only rescheduled for the second semester of 2020.
In almost four years of operation and with 20,000 paid users on its online platform, Flapper sells seats in air taxi planes on pre-programmed routes and intermediates charter flights for any destination.
The startup already received an investment of BRL 3 million ($590,000) from funds Confrapar and Travel Capitalist Ventures. Last October, it won the Pitch@NBAA at the largest business aviation event that took place in Las Vegas.
LABS: What difference in demand has Flapper seen in the past few weeks?
Barbara Andrade: We suffered highs and lows in demand for services from March 15th onwards, when the first airports communicated that they would be closed indefinitely, due to the spread of the pandemic in Brazil. Flight sharing and leisure trips declined, but there was an increase in air medical services, closed groups of travellers, such as for the international repatriation of Brazilians, and cargo transportation.
Has there been a change in requests for international cargo shipments?
Quotes for international flights grew 69% in the first quarter of this year over the fourth quarter of 2019. In the cargo logistics segment, we saw an increase in shipments from China and South Korea to Latin America, especially health equipment and masks. Some airlines are transforming and adapting their planes to transport cargo due to the lack of passengers.
How do you see the current scenario influencing the business aviation segment in the long run?
We believe that in the coming months the Brazilian business aviation sector will behave similarly to what we see in the U.S., where commercial flights are expected to fall by 70% to 90%, while business aviation might increase its importance in the transport of health professionals and sick patients.
How was the impact felt on service prices?
We did not change our prices, we’ve maintained the tags from before the pandemic. What may be perceived as an increase is actually the variation on the exchange rate. Along with the pandemic, we are experiencing a devaluation of the real against other currencies, and as international demand has increased, customers in Brazil may get the impression that prices went up, but it is only a reflection of the devaluation of our currency.
What adjustments did Flapper make in the operation, given the current scenario of heavily affected scheduled flights?
We had to coordinate documents, health procedures (such as quarantines) and departure dates with the policies of each country. At airports, passengers and workers must also undergo health and safety assessment procedures according to each government. Aircraft and service hangars were also subjected to extra hygiene sessions.
In addition, our app was quickly updated to meet new demands, especially those related to cargo transportation. We provide a detailed layout of how the loads are accommodated in aircrafts and dimensions of each one of them.
Any noticeable changes in payment methods?
Due to our record of many shared and leisure flights, we noticed a decrease in payment revenues via credit card and an increase in bank transfers, which also reflect last minute flights. Demand for international transactions grew as well, due to cargo flights.
Has the startup reconsidered plans for 2020?
I believe that we all needed to somehow redesign our paths, but without losing the focus on growth. Given the scenario, we had to change the focus from flight sharing to cargo and closed groups transportation, in addition to specific solutions for our customers.