As commercial jet check-in procedures become ever more complicated, private business jet travel is grabbing a bigger share of the market. To meet the demand, some Czech-based operators are adding aircraft to their fleets.
While private business jet travel is more common in the U.S., where people have used their own or hired aircraft for more than 25 years, in many other areas it is still a bit of a novelty that is only now beginning to catch on. In Central and Eastern Europe there has been a noticeable increase of business jet customers. “The main reason that people look to our services is [to avoid delays] because of the large number of passengers who use common [commercial] flights,” said Marian Jancarik, managing director of executive jet operator ABS Jets, a subsidiary of Czech and Slovak investment group J&T. A businessperson with a first class ticket on an international commercial flight still has to be at the airport two or more hours before the flight and go through the check-in and security process just as does a person who has an economy class ticket for GBP 3 (Kc115/? 4.3) and the pre-flight procedures continue to become more complicated, he added.
“Our customers use special VIP terminals where they [only] have to arrive 15 minutes before their departure. They do not need to wait in a long line with 480 other passengers. All agents are serving only them. Clients decide their destinations, time and onboard services. A client only has to call or send to us his [requirements] and in five minutes he receives a price estimate for his trip,” Jancarik added. Other private jet operators such as Tomas Karhanek, the owner of the Opava, North Moravia-based company Silesia Air, also pointed to convenience. “Since 2002, there has been greater stress on our services’ quality. Our clients assess their time and privacy. Prestige usually plays a secondary role,” he said. For a one flight hour, clients pay from EUR 2,200 to EUR 3,500.
Locally, growth in private travel is coming at the expense of business and first class travel.
“[Worldwide,] traveling in first class and business class is increasing, but [there are] big regional differences. While this kind of travel between Europe and the Far East has risen by 11 percent in 2006, premium transport within European countries has constantly decreased. Last year it fell by 0.2 percent and from 2000 [has fallen] by 50 percent,” said Dagmar Grossmann, CEO of executive jet operator Grossmann Jet Service, owned by K&K Capital Group (KKCG). She said that there were two factors contributing to the decline. First is the increasing number of low cost operators, which appeal to budget-conscious travelers. A second factor is the increasing number of demanding clients who are taking advantage of private jets. Grossman said that for a short time after Sept. 11, 2001, several business aviation companies went bankrupt because of decreased demand for flying, but in recent years the private jet sector has started to recover.
The most typical clients are those from large corporations that send their top management to various business meetings. Local jet operators say that as part of the expected service, they have to know the habits and needs of the clients, such as food preferences. “People using private aircrafts are often really overworked. I saw a lot of tired people on board. Some of them just ask for a cup of hot tea and are so happy that they have a pillow,” Grossmann said. An increasing number of people are using private jet transport for vacations, she added.
Planes on order
In the Czech Republic, there are four main jet operators. In terms of fleet size, the biggest one is ABS Jets. ABS currently manages five aircraft—three Embraer Legacy 600, made by Brazil-based Empresa Brasileira de Aeronautica, and two Cessna Citation Bravo, made by U.S.-based Cessna Aircraft Company. In several days they expect delivery of the sixth plane, a seven-seat Learjet 60 XR, made by Canada-based aviation conglomerate Bombardier. In March 2008, ABS will get its seventh aircraft, an Embraer Legacy, and in January and February 2009 they expect two additional Embraer Legacy aircraft.
Grossmann Jet Service, the leader in the charter service segment and in terms of international acceptance, was established in June 2004. Since that time it has been offering charter and consulting services. In 2005 the company started to operate an Embraer Legacy aircraft. “There was a big potential,” Grossmann said. “This year we had a fabulous time when we were winning many fights against the really established international operators. In March for example we flew over 100 flying hours, when the average is about 42 hours,” she added. By the end of the year, the company expects to operate a second aircraft that belongs to an international Belgium-Lichtenstein consortium. Grossman declined to disclose the name of the owner.
Prague-based Time Air, which has been managing two aircraft—a Cessna Citation C650 and Beechcraft Super King Air BE-300—expects delivery of another Beech Aircraft Corporation plane soon. Martin Prazsky, the company’s managing director said, that the company is looking to become involved in a new jet travel segment by managing new types of small planes called “very light jets” (VLJs). He confirmed that some of them already have been ordered, but their delivery is not expected by the end of 2007. According to the U.S.-based National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) VLJs are single-pilot jets that weigh 5 tons or less and have five or six passenger seats. They cost half as much as the most inexpensive business jet.
Silesia Air specializes in individual air passenger transport (airtaxi). It operates three aircraft financed by the company—a Cessna 560XL Citation Excel, Cessna 560 Citation V and Cessna 525 Citation Jet. Silesia’s Karhanek said that the company currently does not have any expansion plans.