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Traditional differences blur between business class and private jet
The traditional defined differences between business class and private jet are blurring and this is giving VLJ operators ideas and scope for profitable business niches, such as getting businessmen to long haul flights on time, that are already being exploited by operators of larger private jets.

The traditional defined differences between business class and private jet are blurring and this is giving VLJ operators ideas and scope for profitable business niches, such as getting businessmen to long haul flights on time, that are already being exploited by operators of larger private jets.

A Lufthansa spokeswoman says: "We are gaining a complete new clientele and are not cannibalising our own short haul business class flights." But the short and long haul needs of European businessmen networking with Asia are prominent. The return fare for Lufthansa Business Jet from Frankfurt to Pune, India, was on offer at the special introductory fare of €2,199 until the end of June 2008. This included all taxes, fees and the Lufthansa Ticket Service Charge of €15 euros for bookings made online at www.lufthansa.com.

Dr. Karl-Rudolf Rupprecht, svp hub management Frankfurt, says the Airbus A319 that has been refitted as a business jet and is operated by PrivatAir has proved very popular. The A319 has 48 modern lie-flat seats which, when fully reclined, provide an almost horizontal sleeping surface measuring two metres in length. The business class and private jet traveller is being wooed by bigger seat pitches, more generous table top areas, power ports for notebooks and a reading lamp that is integrated into the seat - all providing ideal conditions for work during flight.

Pune, which is twinned with Bremen and has become an important location for about 200 German companies, is home to many large international firms in the IT, biotechnology and biochemistry sectors. European manufacturers including Mercedes, Volkswagen, Renault, Fiat, Skoda and Audi make cars there mainly for the Asian market.

VLJs operators, who plan to exploit a market where point-to-point short haul connects with the longer haul flights of airlines or operators of bigger private jets, need to study schedules and available slots. The potential has been underlined by Jetalliance and by Lufthansa Private Jet (LPJ) which is creating its own nine-strong private jet fleet.

Jetalliance picks the clients up wherever and whenever they desire and transfers them directly to their business class flight with Austrian Airlines. The service, called Austrian Business Jet, was unveiled after Jetalliance placed big orders for Mustangs and Citations.

LPJ flies point-to-point in Europe as well as in combination with Lufthansa or Swiss long-haul flights. The price depends on distance and includes all charges and costs, irrespective of the number of passengers on a flight and the entire itinerary is organised by an event manager. LPJ and Jetalliance are finalising a deal under which Jetalliance would become the second LPJ preferred partner. DC Aviation was the first announced (EBAN June).

Demand for aircraft in 2007, especially in the mid to large category, was at its strongest among customers from Germany, Scandinavia, France and Italy. The LPJ service was utilised primarily for point-to-point flights between about 1,000 destinations offered in Europe and the Russian Federation, says Thierry Antinori, evp marketing and sales at the Lufthansa passenger airline.

"Overseas customers used the service principally in combination with a long-haul flight operated by Lufthansa and Swiss through the Frankfurt, Munich and Zurich hubs," explains Antinori. "In comparison with the previous year, the number of operated private jet flights rose in 2007 by 26 per cent. Customer demand strongly outstripped capacity over the year by an average of around 25 per cent and, in peak months, by as much as 60 per cent."

The choice of VLJ aircraft, as well as the selection of target markets, is key. Many operators are choosing either the Mustang or a combination of the Phenom 100 and 300. VLJ Consultancy, based at the U.K.'s Oxford Airport to focus on mainland Europe plus U.K. domestic cities, has chosen the Phenom. AccelJet ceo Einar Arnarsson says that the Reyjavik-headquartered operator has a Mustang lined up and that there are also two Eclipse 500s on order for delivery in 2009 and 2010. Spain's Aeronorte is aiming its Mustang, due to be delivered in 2009, at middle managers patronising the shorter haul routes. ABS Jets has chosen the Phenom with the 100 en route for 2009 and the 300 for 2010. It has launched a handling operation at Prague Ruzyne which offers a 5,500 square metre hangar, part of which has been used for its MRO which is also an Embraer executive aircraft service centre.

But Smart Air has announced a first fractional ownership programme in Europe for Diamond's single-engine four-plus-one place composite D-Jet. The cost of fuel is another issue that favours VLJs with Blink pointing out that while it forms only 15 per cent to 20 per cent of the cost of a private jet it can be in the region of 50 per cent to 70 per cent of scheduled costs. VLJ clients, including "converts" from business class, can expect a good variety of price and aircraft alternatives as European fleets come on stream and expand.

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