How Swiss Billionaire Thomas Flohr Revolutionized the Private Aviation Industry

The Founder and Chairman of Vista Global, one of the largest private aviation companies in the world, shares how he found success in the sky. 

Earlier this year, JetSmarter and XOJET were acquired by Vista Global, which was founded by Thomas Flohr in 2018 to create an on-demand, private travel platform, XO. XO leverages the power of JetSmarter’s innovation and technology and combines it with XOJET, one of the largest and most well-respected private aviation companies in North America.

Under Flohr’s leadership, Vista Global offers a range of private aviation services, from jet management to on-demand booking. Here, Flohr shares insights into running one of the largest and most expansive brands in the ever-evolving aviation industry.

What got you into aviation? 

After university I started working in asset finance but very quickly found my experience in the corporate world too political, too regimented, too slow. But working in a large corporate environment gave me access to the world of private air travel. Immediately, I was struck by the huge variation in standards and quality—there was no definite in what you were going to meet on the tarmac and most aircraft were reliant on owner’s release. I could see there was a gap in the market to create a premium, cost-effective, simple, and standardized model for all fliers globally, which is why I started VistaJet, and more recently, Vista Global.

What was your vision for VistaJet? 

While I was growing my first company, VistaJet, into the global-market-leading brand it is today, I could see there would be significant demand for a larger group that could offer a truly combined customer offering, no matter your needs or budget or where in the world you needed these services.

Being an entrepreneur and striving for the best you are always looking for the next opportunity to disrupt a market. Our industry was too fragmented, technology was beginning to make its way into the sector, and yet at the same time, there remained a huge disconnect between the large amount of supply and high demand in the market.

There was a major gap for a group to come in and link everything together, to create an ecosystem. So, I established Vista Global to create a network that manages the industry better, more efficiently, for operators and for customers.

We’re introducing the latest and most innovative technology, managing successful on-demand operators, operating a live marketplace, while continuing to seek the best growth opportunities globally, albeit with different brands. VistaJet is the asset-light alternative to aircraft ownership, while XO is the digital marketplace for on-demand flying. Our goal is to make flying privately simpler for everyone.

What has it taken to get where you are today?

First is the passion for bringing value to clients. I always wanted to fly planes and kept an interest in aviation, so it was natural for me to end up starting an aviation business.

The second point that led to the success of my companies is creating a good culture, maintaining a start-up culture even if you end up expanding into a large global company and scaling up. I believe that it’s vital to encourage a collaborative company, where everyone is encouraged to generate ideas and where they feel they have a stake in the business succeeding—encouraging discussion and debate for the benefit of customers and the brand.

And the third point and maybe the most important point, relates to the people I’ve hired during my time. Experts in their field, entrepreneurially minded themselves, and ones who will continue to push our company for the future.

Looking back, is there anything you’d do differently? 

We have flown to and from the United States since the beginning, but in terms of operations we could have brought our commitment to the U.S. market further forward. North America remains a key growth driver—in 2018 VistaJet saw a 46 percent increase in flights in the region and 21 percent of the brand’s global fleet at any given time is in the market.

What are most CEOs/executives looking for when flying private? 

The overarching demand from our travelers is that they can save time, stay connected and travel in a comfortable environment that matches their exact needs. In terms of the trends we’re starting to see more often, by far the biggest change we’ve seen is connectivity and that’s a reflection of the way the world is moving. Everyone is more connected, whether they’re in the air or on the ground. The more time our customers are spending in the air, the more they want to be keeping close to their business engagement and their families too. Hence, we just announced the rollout of the next generation of internet connectivity technology, a first in our industry.

The second trend is that people are moving away from the aircraft itself being a luxury. Ten to 15 years ago, just the aircraft itself was the luxury. What we’re now seeing are customers who want their discerning lifestyle carried into the aircraft cabin itself. The customers are more demanding and continuity needs to be delivered.

The third is to be global. People are no longer doing business on the road. It’s across countries and continents. But it’s not just business, it’s also personal relationships too. Mobility is vital for business leaders. The old adage of doing business with people is still there, but business leaders are no longer sticking to their comfort zones. They’re moving into new frontiers and markets that have rarely been explored before. People are always looking for new opportunities and they can’t always do that in their backyard anymore. Private aviation gives them that flexibility.

What are some misconceptions about private aviation? 

The biggest misconception is that it’s just about luxury and excess. The vast majority of our fliers are people who are looking for an efficient and time-saving way to travel. We provide a service that ensures consistency and ease of use.

Our flights, particularly through our VistaJet business, ensure a home away from home for our fliers. VistaJet is continually flying the world’s leading CEOs and boards across the world—what we provide them is a time-saving way of travel that completely removes stress and hassle. Our role is to ensure they can get to the right meetings on time and in comfort. The biggest problem probably remains wasted flights and seats. With XO, we’re aiming to vastly reduce that by providing seat-sharing options. If we have fliers that don’t need to book a whole aircraft then they can book a seat on an existing flight and share with others. It means that flying is even more efficient and accessible for everyone involved.

Where would you like Vista Global to be in 5 or 10 years?

We’ve built the scale and infrastructure and have the experience to challenge industry norms. Our focus is on bringing the most innovative products and technological solutions to strengthen our unrivalled customer offerings. In five years, I believe we’ll be a case study for innovation-backed, fast, and sustainable growth.

It is clear to see the impact that disrupters across industries have made in recent years, just take the likes of Spotify, Uber, Amazon, and Netflix. We are taking the same ambitious approach to private aviation and are driving the industry forward.