European carriers trial business-jet feeder service

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Lufthansa is trying to build on the success of its all-premium transatlantic operation by offering a business-jet feeder service in Europe and Central Asia.

The carrier launched its Private Jets service with business-jet operator NetJets in 2005, covering over 1,000 airports in Europe and the Russian Federation. The service, offered in conjunction with Lufthansa scheduled flights, attracted up to 10 customers per day in 2006, a 30% increase over 2005, says Lufthansa vice-president sales and services Europe Karsten Benz (pictured left).

“Private Jets is one of most innovative new products in marketplace. It has become a full fixture of our business product,” Benz says, adding demand has increased even further so far this year and there is significant business from repeat customers.

As a result Lufthansa recently extended for five more years its contract with NetJets, which is Europe’s largest business-jet operator. While many high-end customers use Private Jets to connect to Lufthansa long-haul flights at Munich and Frankfurt, Benz says a point-to-point service is also available connecting such destinations as St Petersburg with Nice.

Just as other European carriers quickly followed Lufthansa in the all-premium transatlantic sector, its peers are starting to copy Private Jets. Fellow Star Alliance member Austrian Airlines forged a partnership in May with Austrian business-jet operator JetAlliance to provide a feeder service in Vienna. Austrian is targeting high-end business travellers in Austria and Eastern Europe with business jets flying them to Vienna, where a limousine takes them to a separate customs and passport control area before they connect onto long-haul flights to Asia and North America.

“The new product Austrian Business Jet has been very well received by the market in Austria and will now be implemented in the Eastern European markets and in the USA,” says director of business sales in Austria Christina Debbah. “Right from the beginning we had information and booking requests and there was a big interest in this product.”

Other carriers will likely follow Austrian and Lufthansa in launching similar business-jet feeder services. “We’re evaluating it but haven’t yet made a decision” says Gregor Koncilja (pictured right), the UK country manager and former market manager for Lufthansa sister carrier Swiss.

Benz says Lufthansa does not mind even if rival carriers join the new trend: “We consider our opportunities in the market and our needs. We don’t care if others copy us or not. We always appreciate competition.”