International aircraft broker Air Partner is expanding its global footprint in an attempt to increase its market share and exploit the growing demand for business aircraft across emerging markets.

The UK-headquartered company is also stepping up sales and marketing activity within its traditional markets where leisure travel is helping to lead a resurgence in charter activity.

Air Partner is focusing on Brazil, China, India, Kazakhstan, Mexico Russia and Ukraine, where it says the expanding base of high-net-worth individuals is stimulating demand for business aircraft travel.

Air Partner already has a presence in the most of these key non-traditional markets through its commercial and/or freight brokering businesses, but is keen to add private jets to these portfolios where the offering is not currently available.

"We hope to offer private jet sales in China within six months to a year and in India, Brazil and Mexico within 12 to 18 months," says Air Partner sales director David Macdonald. "We also plan to expand our footprint in Russia as this market has become very important for us."

The mature markets of the USA and Europe "have been our cash cows for many years", he adds "with much of the growth stemming from introduction and expansion of fractional ownership."

These programmes have collectively helped to lower the cost of entry to business aviation, thereby making this previously unobtainable product accessible to a new generation of consumers, Macdonald says.

The economic downturn has been challenging nonetheless for these markets. In the UK, falling charter demand and mounting losses forced the closure last month of the company's Biggin Hill-based Private Jet Operating Company.

The company, which was formed in 2006 following Air Partner's £4.4 million ($6.38 million) acquisition of charter operator Gold Air, has been placed into administration.

"While the US and UK charter markets have retracted we have increased our overall market share [of the brokerage business] through the downturn," says Macdonald. He attributes this to a business decision a number of years ago to diversify the private jets portfolio.

"Traditionally business travel represented around 95% [of the private jets entity] and leisure travel about 5%. Now the split is around 70% to 30%," he says.

The introduction five years ago of a block charter jet card targeted mainly at the ad hoc leisure market has helped to boost Air Partners' revenues. "Business users get hit when the stock market goes down because travel gets canned," says Macdonald. "But many of our card users are high-net-worth individuals who have made a lifestyle choice to keep flying privately, but are looking for a solution that offers value for money while not being locked in to a contract."

Around 5% of members have dropped out of the card programme, but membership remains strong at more than 100, says Macdonald, with former NetJets customers making up a "good share" of the new members. "We now plan to promote the jet card worldwide," he says.

Source: Flight International