The desire to use private aviation will increase. Because for customers, it means safety, comfort, and the ability to fly to places that have no scheduled flights. Sometimes there is a need to use private aviation because there are no flights and people don’t want to put themselves in extra danger by getting into crowded places.
Aspart of our series on “The Future Of Air Travel,”I had the pleasure of interviewing Irakli Litanishvili, CEO & Founder of Mirai Flights.
Irakli is a serial entrepreneur, and in addition to Mirai Flights, he is also the founder and owner of the Aim of Emperor international group of companies. The Aim of Emperor group consists of 15 companies that include charter brokerage, international aircraft handling, aircraft, helicopter and yacht sales and acquisition, travel and marketing divisions, and has more than 200 employees. In 2020, Irakli and his team reached another significant milestone: the establishment of a new European air carrier with its own AOC — SkyLight air operator. In 2021, Irakli and his team launched an IT company Mirai Flights, a service for booking private jets in the UK, Europe, Middle East and CIS countries. Mirai Flights helps clients to choose a suitable time and place of departure with an option to select the class of the aircraft, price, number of passengers, comfort level and instant payment method. Mirai Flights saves time by offering private jet booking in one click.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
Igot into the field of business aviation completely by accident. I got my Bachelor’s degree in Georgia, at the Department of Management and Control of World Standards in the field of Quality Assurance, Certification and Management, which is a measurement science — Metrology. Afterwards, I obtained my Master’s degree at the Newcastle Business School, Northumbria University, majoring in International Business. To further my career in England I applied for an HSMP (Highly Skilled Migrant Programme from 2002 to 2008, which was designed to enable highly skilled people to immigrate to the UK for employment or self-employment opportunities.) By obtaining it, I was able to come to England for a year and find work. The conditions of the visa were that at the end of the year I had to report and prove that my assimilation into British society had been successful, and my visa would then be automatically extended for 4 years. Which turned out to be the case.
When I moved to London and actually started my career from scratch, I initially wanted a job in investment banking and successfully passed the interviews at Lehman Brothers and Deutsche Bank. When I got the offers, I couldn’t decide whether to go to Lehman Brothers to work in IP Investment Management or Deutsche Bank as a risk manager. At the same time, I happened to attend a networking event at London-based Russian in the city where I met a headhunter from a major recruitment company, and she suggested I look into sales related to private jet charter services for Highly Well-off clients.
She was just looking for a salesperson for a small brokerage company with a team of 6–8 people, which handled aircraft, helicopter and yacht rentals for the wealthy. And I decided that it was great to start a career in a small company, as the growth and potential could be many times greater than going all the way through the corporate structure of a large corporation. So I accepted the offer and got into the business aviation field.
Initially I was in sales, which turned out to be an incredibly interesting business for me. We had a KPI that each of us had to sell £50,000 worth of services, but in the first month alone I was able to sell £350,000 worth without any personal contact with the customers. I think my past experience in selling insurance products in Georgia helped me because selling an insurance policy is the hardest thing to do. Within a year I settled in and started working as a partner/customer for my clients with famous airlines such as Comlux, VistaJet etc.
A year later, I visited my first trade show in Geneva — EBACE — and got 3 job offers, not from the brokers, but from the airlines where I bought flights for my clients. After accepting one of these offers, I moved to Moscow to work as a company representative. I had always been keen to get to Moscow and see how business was organised in Russia and what opportunities there were for growth. In 2008, I flew to Moscow for the first time to develop the business. But 2008 turned out to be a difficult year, because of the crisis, and many people stopped using charter flights. Airlines were losing the ability to provide aircraft because there was not enough demand, they had to give up the aircraft they had leased. Then I had an idea, which I proposed to the founders of the English company: why not transform the charter airline business into an asset management business. We had a lot of information — what the prices were, what to buy, how to buy it and, combining all this, we could make direct offers to the aircraft owners, suggesting they give their aircraft to our company for management. My proposal received support from the management. Within two years, with a team of 3–4 people, we brought 15 aircraft under our management — it was a huge success. For example, our London colleagues managed to attract only 5 during the same period. And I, in fact, was drawn into aviation and everything connected with it. At the age of 30, together with my team, I decided to create my own company and start on the path to becoming an aviation entrepreneur. Today we have a group of companies that operates in three niches: aviation, fuel & ground handling, and IT. We have put all the expertise accumulated over the years into this group that is called AIM OF EMPEROR.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
I learnt an important lesson in that small brokerage company of eight people. I had very interesting managers, one in charge of marketing and another in charge of strategy and sales. When I started working, the most important tools were: the computer, the software in which we handled clients, and the telephone. The requests came through different channels — some by phone, some online, some from our partners. All this had to be entered into the system, and then the sales and post-sales service had to be monitored. After the contract is signed, the actual work begins. Every client has their own needs and wants, and you have to satisfy them with the best service possible by controlling and managing a great number of small details. It so happened that when I joined the company,I was given a BlackBerry business phone, which was very popular at the time, in a greyish cream colour. It was an outdated model, its buttons were jammed, the joystick on it often did not move and those were my starting conditions. I would regularly ask each of the managers how I could change the phone. After a month, when I realised that no one was responding to my repeated requests, I decided to approach the owner and ask him for a new phone. In response to that request he told me: “You realise that even when you work for a company, you have to really fight to get something.” I have learned this lesson. But what I have learned was quite different: “If you want people to work for you in a quality way and bring in many times more, you have to create the conditions for them: the workplace, the tools they use to earn money. A manager should understand how his employees and his team are living, because if they are doing well outside of work and inside the company, that’s the main thing that can lead the company to success”. That’s why I try to give my team as many tools as I can to help them realise their goals.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
In my third month as a broker, I had one case that wasn’t a failure, but definitely an interesting story. By then I already had clients whose usual routes I knew. I had one such client with a regular route from point A to point B, and I already knew what plane to give him and what other amenities to provide. At one point I got so comfortable with him that when he wrote to me: “Hi, I’d like to book a private jet,” I made the mistake of replying: “Yes, thank you, we’re happy to help you. Will it be your usual?” and he said: “Yes, my usual.” I made the booking from point A to point B, I started the flight preparation process and at some point, 24 hours before departure, I sent him the flight briefing. He looked at this briefing and said: “Yes, but I’m not at point A, I’m at point B.” If I’m not mistaken, it was a flight from Riga to Paris or Nice. Fortunately, that evening I found an operator in Riga — a well-known business aviation company. I met the company’s owner and asked him to help us, as I could not provide the client with a plane from Europe, and I did not have enough time. The owner of the operator agreed to help me: he found an aircraft that was assigned to the company, but was not in the system, and we safely performed the flight.
Of course, there was also the threat of a penalty for the error. However, even that went smoothly — I managed to persuade the operator of the mistakenly booked flight and had the sum we paid credited to our future flight which may seem impossible nowadays.
This situation taught me two lessons. The first one was on the importance of building a personal connection instead of communicating just by email or messenger. And the second one was that you should always pay attention to detail, and that no matter how well you know your client or their behaviour, you should always double-check! There is a saying: “The devil is in the details!” When you work in business aviation service provision, it’s better to double-check.
It was funny, it was stressful, but the good thing is that it all ended well.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”? Can you share a story about that?
I think that the industry professionals are well aware when they come into this field that the working day will not be rationed. We need to be on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and 365 days a year. Indeed, one can get burnt out with such a schedule because sometimes it feels like a lot of pressure on your person. Also, if we talk about brokers, for example, their employees have no time on their own. I can only say that it’s important to try and keep a balance. And the balance is kept, I’m sure that both the work will be enjoyable and your private life will be settled. But the most important thing is to work for pleasure, because then the late night calls won’t be stressful. So, the most important thing is to give yourself space to take deep breaths when you have some free time, and to be able to quickly engage in the working processes when that’s necessary and, as my partners from the English company QUANTUMVIA say: “We should not compromise with our lifestyle.”
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person whom you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
I have been fortunate that all along my path in life there have been certain people who have helped me become who I am. Starting from birth, I was grateful to my parents for coming into this world. Plus, my parents always made time for me, invested in my education and helped me learn new things. And when I completed my first education and realised that I already wanted to get out of my parents’ tutelage and find my own way, there were also people who helped me to find myself.
I have never had anyone tell me what to do. I started looking for a part-time job in my first year of university and I found one. I graduated from the university working in Georgia at the Neo Studio where I edited and produced videos. This studio is still in operation and is owned by Manana Shevardnadze, the daughter of the former President of Georgia. I had been working there for almost 5 years and started to understand that I needed to grow further. And I am grateful to Manana and her family because when I decided to go study in England, I told her: “Manana, I would like to go away to study, so I need to quit.” She asked me: “Are you financially prepared for that?” I said: “I don’t have any savings, but I’ll take out a student loan now and go and study.” She replied, “Let’s talk tomorrow.”
So the next day she called me up and said: “For your five years with us we want to pay for your studies in England. You need to find a university, apply, and we will pay your tuition, and after that it’s up to you: if you want — go back, if you want — don’t go back.” And so I applied and got in. They paid for my studies and opened the door to the future in which I am now. When I finished my studies and came back to Georgia to work for them after my Masters in London, they saw that I wanted more and said: ‘You don’t owe us anything, so move on.” So I moved on.
There were always people to lean on. When I got into the flow, started working, at some point there were difficult times, but I could always turn to my partners, comrades and ask for advice. But there was no such thing as a certain kind of protectionism. Nevertheless, I was lucky in that the people I met were always happy to help or simply advise me on the best way to proceed.
One day, when I began to realise that the English company I was working for was closing down, I started to set up my own company. I went to one of my clients, Pavel Tyo, who is the founder of a large development company in Russia, Capital Group, and said: “Pavel, you are a client of this company. But the company is closing down, and I would like to develop my business, won’t you support me? Would you be my first client?” he replied: “I would love to,” and that’s how we ended up forming our own group of companies, thanks to the professionalism of my team.
Can you share with our readers how have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
Thank you, this is a very important and interesting question, because every person who comes into this world and achieves something, they definitely want to leave a certain mark. First of all, when you are successful, people around you get some positive energy or knowledge from you, and again, as a mentor, you can help them to explore their own talents.
Achieving success in your professional life entails bringing new interesting people into your environment. So when you do your job really well, you already make a difference. Someone gets positive emotions from a well-performed flight, someone gets the same positive emotions from certain actions that helped them save money, and so on. There are those cases where we support people who are having a hard time at one time or another. And this is all possible thanks to the resources we have: we work, we earn, and we can give something back. And this function of giving back, teaching and giving positive emotions is the main component of success. And speaking globally, looking ahead, we have the Mirai Flights project, which we want to develop — it will give the business aviation industry a lot of innovation and benefits. It will change the market and it will definitely save time and money for the customers and create a positive digital experience in ordering private jets.
Thank you for that. Let’s jump to the core of our discussion. Can you share with our readers about the innovations that you are bringing to the Aviation and Air Travel industries?
Having been in the business aviation business since 2006, we have created a group of companies with profound expertise in the field. Mirai Flights is our new project that will benefit both our customers and airline partners, as well as the agents who know the industry best and understand what they are booking. As of today, there is no mechanism that would give them more control, more transparency, more understanding and more market flexibility. All of this led us to create, by analogy with the well-known IT giants, a service that other companies tried to implement but so far without success. We believe that we will succeed in creating a player that will consolidate the market. The main idea and objective of Mirai Flights is to shorten the process of booking flights from several hours to several seconds with transparent prices and convenient payment format — we allow payments of up to 300,000 euros in one click, so the client can save both his and others’ time.
Which “pain point” are you trying to address by introducing these innovations?
Mirai Flights is all about saving time! We help save time for the customer by offering instant reservations and for the airline by saving them unnecessary work and by offering to automate the process of accounting and booking the aircraft. We think it’s a daunting task, but modern technology enables us to make it efficient and, most importantly, rewarding. Both for the customers and suppliers.
In doing so, Mirai Flights not only saves time, but we also simplify the operational process of booking and show the customer the final cost of the flight at once, while providing a convenient payment process, which is long overdue for this kind of service.
How do you envision that this might disrupt the status quo?
We believe that the instant booking system will both increase the availability of the service to passengers and, what’s especially important, effectively deliver information about empty legs to the end customer, allowing empty legs to be sold more efficiently and, as a consequence, reduce the cost of flights. We anticipate that this optimisation will reduce the cost of flights for the end buyer and change the charter booking landscape in Europe in the nearest future, and within a year or two in the US as well. By optimising the airlines’ schedules, the cost per flight hour can be reduced, making the service more affordable for the customer. It will help to fill those empty flights that the airlines are forced to fly, making them unable to minimise the price. When we implement all of these features, in addition to instant booking and instant payment system and then flight tracking, the customer will actually be in control of the whole process. We will bring some transparency and speed to all of this.
Are there exciting new technologies that are coming out in the next few years that will improve the Air Travel experience? We’d love to learn about what you have heard.
We are definitely working on improving the air travel experience, and the industry overall is not standing still either. Many players are trying to create similar services, and many unsuccessful attempts have actually given the industry a boost. But a market leader has never emerged, even though the companies have created good showcases. They were able to gather a certain audience, but they were unable to pack it all in, to create really working IT services. A lot of work has gone into making new mobility formats. JetSmart is building an interesting business. But we are striving to create a better and more customer-friendly story. We give away the price immediately.
In fact, the market today has never thought about changing and creating trust between customers and market players. The airlines are not loyal to the brokers, and the customers are not loyal to the brokers either, and I believe that Mirai Flights can change that. It hasn’t been long since the services such as booking.com and Uber came into our lives, but they have already become a certain benchmark for creating loyal customer service.
As you know, the Pandemic has changed the world as we know it. For the benefit of our readers, can you help spell out a few examples of how the Pandemic has specifically affected Air Travel?
During the pandemic, passengers who used commercial flights really lost their ability to travel. This was due to the cancellation of scheduled flights and introduction of new restrictions, to which the big airlines were unable to react quickly. This allowed the private jet booking industry to grow because many customers who fly business class have turned to private aviation services and, to their surprise, discovered that flying on business jets does not affect their budget much. Obviously, flying by private jet may be the same as the price of a First Class ticket or slightly more expensive, but the pandemic has encouraged people to fly privately, when they can do it with just their family and not worry about the health issues. So, the years 2019–2020 have been the years of growth for the private jet industry. This has to do with the lockdown measures, vaccination, PCR tests and other standards, whose implementation has already been automated by private aviation. There were also a lot of airline bookings where people flew by buying seats on the plane in a sharing economy format. I think at some point this will pass, but I understand from our group of companies that the increase in customer base due to this was about 70%. Even if everything reverts to the way it was before, a new category of customers has already formed. They previously thought that business aviation is too expensive for them, and it turned out that it’s not. Our group of companies has many such cases.
For example, one of our clients, a partner in a law firm in London, needed to return to London urgently and she wanted to buy a seat on a flight, it turned out that the flight was not full. When we informed her that unfortunately, the flight would have to be rescheduled because there was no capacity on the flight, she asked how much the flight would cost. The price was about 20 euros. She said: “Really, only 20 euros?! For that kind of service and comfort?! I’m willing to pay! And if you want, you can hook people up with me and deduct that amount from the price tag.” And so it worked out. We put a couple up with her — a husband and wife. She was delighted and stayed with us as a client, she continues to fly with us. And there are a lot of cases like that. I realise that not all of these clients will stay, but it is clear that 10–30% of clients will actively use our service. By active I mean that they may use this service two-three times a year, not every day or every week. But it’s still an increase for the whole industry.
Can you share five examples of how the Air Travel experience might change over the next few years to address the new realities brought by the Pandemic? If you can, please give an example for each.
1. Of course, the desire to use private aviation will increase. Because for customers, it means safety, comfort, and the ability to fly to places that have no scheduled flights. Sometimes there is a need to use private aviation because there are no flights and people don’t want to put themselves in extra danger by getting into crowded places.
2. The geography of flights will change. Private aviation is not restricted in any way by the geography of commercial flights.
3. The cost of the service will fall. A 30–35% increase in demand on the market for business aviation moves the price tag down. Slowly, but the cost of services is going down. The service itself is turning from a luxury service to the means of transportation.
4. Digitalisation of the industry. It will happen at all levels. At the level of interaction with the customer, at the level of request processing with the airline. Digitalisation will also change the internal processes within the airlines. The pandemic has accelerated this process. There is a widespread remote interaction and an understanding among airlines that it is impossible to keep so many staff in one place in the new environment and that the work must be optimised. Most importantly, there is an understanding that new technologies need to be introduced to enable the staff to interact more securely with one another and to use human resources more efficiently.
5. People will also change. The pandemic has pushed us to a new format of life in which quality-built and well-working IT tools are essential. Soon the workforce will become more skilled — I’m talking about software developers, technicians, product scientists.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea could trigger.
This is absolutely right! As I said earlier — we want to create loyalty, and that loyalty will bring both customers and service providers closer. As a service provider, it is important for us to become a bridge in the industry that provides trust, transparency, high-quality standards, security, loyalty and time savings. Time is the most expensive resource today. Thanks to the development of an IT service like Mirai Flights, people will be able to have more time for family, learning, careers, the Earth, and nature.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!
An Interview With Candice Georgiadis, Authority Magazine