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Mon, Aug 28, 2006 - Page 10 News List

Terror threat boosts demand for private business jet firms


Business jet operators have seen demand for their services take off in Europe as more and more busy executives try to bypass crowding at major airports and tighter security measures that slow travel.

The growing appeal of private jets was underscored in the days after Britain unveiled an alleged plot to blow up transatlantic airliners as private jet companies across the continent reported a jump in bookings when scores of commercial flights were canceled.

Netjets Europe, the biggest operator of business jets in Europe whose fleet is registered in Portugal, has over 1,200 customers in Europe, up from just 89 four years ago.

The number of planes which the firm, part of US tycoon Warren Buffet's Berkshire Hathaway, operates in Europe rose during the same time to 112 from 17, making it the ninth biggest airplane fleet on the continent.

The company has invested US$445 million on its fleet this year, with 30 new aircraft scheduled for delivery by the end of the year.

"We are very, very bullish about the future," Netjets Europe director of business development, Robert Dranitzke, said in a telephone interview.

Netjet Europe's growth reflects the strong rise in business jet traffic in Europe, which since 2001 has grown twice as fast than the rest of air traffic, according to air traffic management agency Eurocontrol.

The agency predicts the European fleet of business aircraft will grow by 4 percentage points per year over the next 10 years, adding around 1,000 aircraft to the existing fleet of 2,000 planes.

Globalization has increased the need for business travel and top executives in Europe have increasingly come to see paying more to fly as a justifiable expense if it saves time, analysts and business jet operators said.

"As business has become increasingly competitive, time has become more valuable for top executives. As a result the value proposition for private aviation has become more and more tenable," Dranitzke said.

Private jet operators mainly use smaller airports, where the more stringent security checks aren't usually disruptive, and can offer direct flights between most locations.

The introduction of creative payment models, such as fractionable ownership and pre-paid cards for flying hours, and the perception that air travel has become more complicated since the Sept. 11 attacks have helped the market expand, analysts said.

Skyjet International, a subsidiary of Canadian aerospace group Bombardier, recorded a 25 percent jump in inquiries about its prices in the week after the alleged airline bombing plot was unveiled by British police on Aug. 10.

While most new users of private jets will return to regular airlines once the tighter security put in place following the security alert eases, Skyjet's managing director, Judith Morton, said some will continue to use the service.

"This will generate new business," she said in a telephone interview.

Prices range from 110,000 euros (US$140,000) for 25 hours of flying time in a small jet to 500,000 euros for a return trip from Europe to Hong Kong on board a 10-seat Bombardier Global Express.

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