Venetia van Kuffeler meets Toby Edwards, co-CEO of leading on-demand
jet charter platform Victor to hear about their latest partnership aligned with
science-based targets to hit Net Zero

Leading on-demand jet charter platform Victor were quick to react when the COVID pandemic hit. CEO of Victor Toby Edwards recalls, “aside from operationalising a skeleton team, we quickly launched Victor Rescue to continue repatriations. One of the most challenging aspects of the COVID-19 crisis was the need to repatriate citizens, sometimes in the face of medical emergencies and often where borders and airports are shut to commercial air traffic.  So Victor Rescue was deployed by organisations like the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office to help.” With specialist aircraft and social distancing on-board, private aviation was able to respond to challenging travel briefs where commercial flights were unsuitable. “One of the major challenges was that each country started to implement their own rules at different times. We worked with various governments trying to get people out, and an enterprising attitude was important to help us deliver. People who have not flown private before need a fair bit of handholding in terms of guidance of options and what is suitable, so our business was really suited for this.” He continues: “For example, we chartered around ten commercial jets from major UK university cities to fly many of the Chinese students in the UK into Frankfurt, where they then flew commercially back to China.”

Recounting the timeline, Edwards remembers that “By May 2020, some countries had started to lift restrictions; we had to maintain up-to-date expertise on the rules, regulations and tests.  Our high-touch service was critical. From then, demand was increasing on a weekly basis and by summer, business aviation was booming. We also learnt during this period that the business was fully operational 100 per cent remotely with no members of staff in the office, which was handy when different variants arose, and further lockdowns were enforced.”

Toby Edwards Victor co-CEO

Toby Edwards Victor co-CEO

It was during these challenging months in 2020, that Edwards became co-CEO, having been completely new to aviation when he’d joined Victor just 10 years prior. Launched back in 2011, Victor enables flyers to search, compare and book private air travel quickly, efficiently and with confidence. With access to more than 7,000 aircraft via a global network of 200 partner operators, the company is said to have rewritten the jet charter rulebook with a fully transparent, subscription-free marketplace which combines smart technology with high-touch customer service. “I’d had good experience working with family offices, boutique investment banks and private equity, and I was eager to join a brand internet business with a lot of ambition.” He began in sales, soon going into management, and latterly a leadership position. Reflecting on the recent challenging times, he says “Now, the size of our business means that whatever we are experiencing is a good representation of what’s going on in the marketplace – at least in the UK and Europe. In the early days, no one knew what was going to happen, and the uncertainty was the hardest part.”

But at Victor, he explains they were able to be flexible and adapt fast. “As an on demand private jet business, we are a very used to getting a request one morning for a flight that evening. Our business model is all about transparency and showing the options up front, in what is traditionally quite an opaque sector. There’s a huge amount of concierge that comes with a booking, and that isn’t something that can be automated through an app. We also act as a very high-end luxury travel agent. Clients demand a high standard of service, and the brief can be tricky. Sometimes we have passengers with disabilities who require support getting on/off the aircraft and have complicated medical equipment. More than one in ten of our clients travel with a pet, and we have transported bicycles, guns for the shooting season, and even fine art from the TEFAFs and ART BASEL art fairs. For expensive items, flying private makes really sense to keep these items safe.”

Victor also passes on exclusive benefits and brand partners to their customers via their loyalty point system, Alto.  “Fliers earn points when they spend with Victor, and we have opened this up to other luxury partners, including limousine ground transport, golf partners, five-star hotels, and so on.  As a member of Victor, you can earn additional Alto points, and put them towards the cost of your jet in the future.”

"Over the years, we’ve
done flights for governments
for G20 summits. These
occasions require a next
level service, including a
shadow aircraft for backup
in case there’s a technical
problem, plus people on the
ground at the airport
overseeing the process and
making sure the passengers
are happy, as well as to
coordinate with security."

For Victor and similar companies, 2021 marked a peak for business aviation. “It has cooled off since then due to various factors.  And there’s also been the loss of Russian business. But the uncertainty theme started with Brexit and has been a constant since then. Planning has been more difficult.” However, he continues, “At the start of 2020, we set up a three-year plan before COVID even began. Thankfully we effectively hit our targets, but in a very different way to how we planned. The team has gained a lot of really good experience, and we ran our graduate scheme in 2022, hiring seven graduates to start their careers in business aviation. The fact the company was able to evolve during difficult circumstances, plus our flexibility and resilience has meant that Victor has done very well in 2022.”

In recent years, business has peaked around large events like Davos, Formula One, the Champions League and the World Cup in Qatar. And Victor also continues to work with diplomatic and governmental clients. “We look after US ambassadors in the Middle East. Over the years, we’ve done flights for governments for G20 summits. These occasions require the next level of service, including a shadow aircraft for backup in case there’s a technical problem, plus people on the ground at the airport overseeing the process, making sure passengers are happy, and coordinating with security.”

We worked with various foreign offices trying to get people out, and an enterprising attitude was important and helped us deliver

Edwards credits much of Victor’s success to their sustainable approach; but last June the company also joined forces with Neste, the world’s largest producer of Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF), to provide their clients with the opportunity to make a significant, measurable impact in their emission reduction strategies. The new Victor x Neste partnership allows businesses and governments to reduce the carbon emissions of their jet charter travel through the voluntary purchase of Neste MY SAF. “Throughout 2021- 22, it became pretty apparent that SAF was going to be the big shift going forward, in order to meet the 2050 Net Zero Goals,” Edwards notes. “There’s been lot of research into this, and it’s very safe. The great benefit is that that it can be used in the existing infrastructure. As a product, SAF reduces emissions by about 80 per cent over the course of its lifecycle versus traditional jet fuel. It’s made from renewable materials, like used cooking oil.”

Neste SAF Tanker truck at Airport

Neste SAF Tanker truck at Airport

Edwards explains the process: “our customers can choose how much fossil fuel they’d like to replace with Neste SAF when they book: anything from five to 100 per cent. The aircraft they book flies with regular aviation fuel, however, we alert Neste how much aviation fuel the customer has bought, along with all the other customers that month. They calculate how much SAF has been bought that month, then take it from the refinery, and place on board a commercial airline. The moment that the flight has flown, they can certify that the SAF has been burnt and a certificate can be issued to the customer. Therefore, the client can directly reduce their carbon emissions within the aviation sector, and it all takes place within a month or two. That is why this partnership is aligned with science-based targets to hit Net Zero. This is an industry first blueprint, and we are delighted with its progress.”

Neste Rotterdam Refinery

Neste Rotterdam Refinery

So despite the challenges of the current global situation, their sustainable approach has helped Victor to experience steady growth. “Personally, I find that unpredictability can be a lot of fun – you have no idea what is round the corner,” observes Edwards. “But larger than that, we have a purpose driven organisation with regards to the planet, and the responsibility of being the UK’s leading on-demand private jet business with credible, water-tight sustainability initiatives.”