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Charter boost as business jets rescue travellers' plans
Charter operators are reporting increased enquiries as businesses turn to private travel to avoid security delays on scheduled airlines. The security alert came as British authorities announced the arrest of a significant number of alleged extremists suspected of a plot to destroy passenger aircraft flying from the U.K. to the U.S.

Charter operators are reporting increased enquiries as businesses turn to private travel to avoid security delays on scheduled airlines.

The security alert came as British authorities announced the arrest of a significant number of alleged extremists suspected of a plot to destroy passenger aircraft flying from the U.K. to the U.S.

There were tight restrictions on hand baggage with luggage diverted through more comprehensive screening into aircraft holds. Only specified items were allowed into the cabin in clear plastic bags and the additional security measures caused significant delays and travel disruption.

Willem de Kruif, ceo Jet Netherlands. reported additional inquiries and bookings.

Nick Weston, md of the U.K.-based Focus Air Charter which is opening a new office in Orlando, Florida, confirms there was an increase in demand for immediate private charter.

He told EBAN: "Many bookings were for people away from the U.K. on the Thursday who wanted to come back to the U.K. by private charter instead of the scheduled return that they had already booked. Reasons were a combination of simply wanting to avoid delays but there were also continuing safety concerns. "

Juergen Breme, cfo of VistaJet in Salzburg confirmed that the heightened security alert had increased private aircraft enquiries.

He says that the bespoke application of security in private and business charter had always been one of the key differenciators from scheduled flights.

He points out: "Each passenger is personally known to the charter company and the other passengers."

Melissa White, marketing manager, Club328 Executive Jet Services, reported increased business and enquiries "mainly in the short term, high intensity bookings on the actual day of the increased security (Thursday 10 August), with some drop off in the following days, however still ahead of the current trend for the month."

Private operators are required to adhere to the same security measures that are in place within any main airport from which they are flying.

"However private terminals obviously allow for a speedier process due to fewer passenger numbers and clearer channels. At GA airports, the security personnel are dedicated to GA flights. Although the screening process is the same, restrictions applied to to commercial flights do not necessarily apply (hand luggage controls etc.)

She says it is possible that increased security measures and consequent delays could have a knock on effect for business passengers at main airports, dependent on the resources required for security checking.

"However, if businessmen choose to fly from a GA airports, they can certainly expect a more consistent and dependable service. Private operators generally recommend that passengers fly from these smaller airfields for both the security benefits and for their more convenient locations and lower associated costs."

Nick Messer, sales and marketing director of the U.K.-based European Business Jets reports: "Sales enquiries are increasing but the striking point is that a lot of people who were thinking about our proposition have now moved it right up to the top of their agenda. The proposal has now become something they must get sorted."

The EBJ proposition involves individuals or companies buying a portion of a specific aircraft - an interest that meets their travel requirements based on the number of actual hours they expect to fly annually. They are then guaranteed exclusive use and availability of an aircraft in Europe with a minimum of 12 hours' notice.

Martin Lener, md of Tyrolean Jet Services another charterer that has received increased enquiries, says a major reason is the greater dependability of charter. There is a greater emphasis on passenger comfort when security measures are applied.

Rupert Dent, ceo with the U.K. Oxford-based Air Med reports more enquiries and increased business attracted by factors such as the "much more dependable" service.

NetJets Europe says it will continue to implement increased security measures. It adds: "Their safety and security is our number one priority, and the current security alert underscores the need for continued vigilance."

Charlie LeBlanc, vp operations at Air Security International agrees that intense security alerts are likely to accelerate the steady growth of private aircraft use in Europe.

"Europe is unique in that, because of its geography, so many flights are international," he told EBAN. "It seem inevitable that business aviation will continue to grow especially if extra security measures exacerbate congestion and delays."

Robert Walters, bdm at Biggin Hill Airport, reported there was a 40 to 50 per cent increase in private aircraft traffic, while the alert was at its early peak.

"We had bankers that had flown into Gatwick and were unable to get onward scheduled flights to Oslo for an important business meeting. We had a couple of stag parties (pre-wedding celebrations) that were also stranded at Gatwick and chartered onward flights."

Walters expects there to be a longer-term effect on charter bookings."The alerts are putting the idea into peoples' minds that private travel arrangements might be a wise investment for the future in order to avoid disruption by outside influences. People are more aware that there is an alterantive to scheduled travel."

Biggin Hill has built up annual private aircraft traffic on around 15,000 traffic movements annually but reports a 30 per cent month on month increase in volumes recently. During the recent terror alert there were 100 movements daily compared with a more usual 50.

Tim Gill, marketing manager, FAL Aviation U.K. and London Ashford Airport, says: "The nature of private aviation handling invariable means a faster and less intrusive security process. It is also worth noting that, in our experience, even private passengers are happy with reasonable security and screening processes. It is after all in their interests for all in aviation to be vigilant. Aircraft owners and operators are increasingly more interested in the procedures in place at FBOs to protect the interest of their crew, clients and assets."

He adds: "At FAL we already have in place baggage and screening at the FBO (discretionary to private owners)."

Judith Moreton, md of Skyjet International, says that the disruption following the thwarting of an alleged terrorist plot against aircraft flying from the U.K. to the U.S.says enquiries were not confined to business travellers.

"We received enquiries from our jet members who were booked on airlines but could not cope with the mayhem on scheduled airlines," she says.

"The same security procedures are employed but the overall volume of passengers is so much smaller in business aviation. For a private aircraft the delays might amount to a few minutes ameliorated by personal service."

She adds: "History shows that, when a major security issue like this happens, business jets are able to come to the rescue because they are geared to make individual travel enjoyable. Scheduled airlines are affected so badly because of the volumes of passengers they have to put through the process. With the fewer numbers in business aviation it is so much less onerous."

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