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February 2019


Notes from NetJets
"Owners are always amazed to see the number of people working in NetJets' European flight centre, says Myra Perez, Director of Customer Service at the centre based in Paço de Arcos, Lisbon. “That means we’re doing our job well.”

Although Perez is pleased by the fact that Owners tend to assume her team is just a few highly competent employees who can make anything happen, she in fact oversees a small army. Outside her glass-walled office are rows of cubicles that accommodate some 90 employees. 

In the Owners Services Team, there’s a multilingual hum of confident, unflustered customer service. There’s little hint that a good number of those calls are for sameday bookings (some days as many as ten, and there’s a dedicated group to handle them) and last-minute schedule changes. “NetJets sells flexibility … our Owners have complicated lives,” says Perez, proudly noting that Lisbon employees recently managed to have someone on a flight 45 minutes after he called to book it. (There’s no promise of repeat performance – the booking windows specified in Owners’ agreements still stand.) 
The one-sided conversations I hear sound much like the city outside: people speaking Portuguese, English, French, German, Russian – Owner support in those languages is guaranteed 24/7. Depending on who is working a shift, there might be as many as 20 different tongues spoken.

Owners’ interactions may end there, but the department is just one of many on the floor. There are employees who strategies ways to personalise the flight experience – say, by arranging to have a cake on board if an Owner tells them their family is travelling to celebrate a birthday or anniversary. Other departments take care of catering, onward transportation, whether taxis or helicopters, and the logistics of stocking planes with onboard items at the roughly 900 European airports that NetJets serves. There are also staff members who supervise local employees greeting guests and ushering them through busy airports (think Monaco during the Grand Prix or Davos during the World Economic Forum), procure in-flight amenities like iPads and lavender eye masks, and creative-direct the activity rucksacks for children and goody bags for adults that are given out on some flights.
That’s just Perez’s floor. “Things start here,” she says. “They’re complicated here, and then they get really complicated upstairs.” 

But up there, Simon Shinn, the Head of Operation Control Centre, is the picture of calm. So are the people in the rows of spacious cubicles, quietly troubleshooting or looking at multiple oversize monitors. Many of these display the jigsaw puzzles of arrivals and departures that they’re assembling and reassembling.

Everyone I speak to in the office compares the colorful iJet software to Tetris, with new elements continually appearing and needing to be fit in. Marketing & Public Relations Manager Tom Ville says it’s “mesmerising” as we walk past. It certainly is for a layperson (and onetime Tetris addict) like me.

More fodder for the visually distracted: a real time map display of all NetJets planes in European airspace. Shinn glances up and says there are about 14 at the moment, a typical number during the day. (There are about 100 passenger flights a day in summer, plus positioning flights.)

And the Tetris isn’t a game. The Quality and Safety Review Department ensure that any itinerary an Owner tries to book (or rebook) is viable, or proposes an alternative such as a different type of aircraft or a fuel stop. “We never say no,” says Shinn. “We say that isn’t feasible, but this is the solution we propose.” 

In nearby rows of cubicles, the chief pilot for each of the eight types of aircraft in the fleet manages the roughly 500 pilots in Europe and is on call to answer questions from colleagues out in the line. Nearby, a regulations and tech group takes care of getting authorizations from arrival airports. Other departments look after long- and short-range scheduling, international planning, timetabling crew from 20 European gateways, creating legally binding dispatch documents, submitting every flight plan to a central European air traffic control computer, and maintenance. 
Around 100 flights a day are overseen from NetJets’ Flight Centre in Lisbon.
The last of these includes representatives of the makers of all of NetJets’ planes, who are on call to travel to perform unscheduled maintenance if it can’t be handled remotely. Like most of those working upstairs, they’re best in class. “A lot of these guys doing very specialised jobs have been doing them for ten or 15 years,” says Ville, noting that one reason NetJets selected Lisbon as its European base is Portugal’s long history of well-trained aviators. All told, about 40 people are involved with each flight. But Perez likes it that Owners don’t know all that. “As long as it is safe, we will make it happen,” she says – and that’s all the Owners really need to know.