Kate Sarsfield/BRUSSELS

Airbus hopes to carve a niche for its A319 Corporate Jetliner (CJ) in the executive shuttle market, which it predicts could account for sales of more than 20 aircraft within five years.

The European manufacturer has completed extensive research of more than 200 international corporations, assessing their annual travel patterns and requirements, with a view to meeting their needs with a dedicated scheduled route network served by A319CJs.

The programme will provide a cost-effective alternative to airline travel, which is becoming a less attractive and less flexible means of transport for executives, Airbus said at the European Business Aviation Association convention which took place in Brussels, Belgium, from 4-6 April.

Airbus vice-president for the CJ programme, Richard Gaona, says: "Look at DaimlerChrysler as an example. This company flies [a corporate shuttle] around 20h a day between Pontiac, Michigan, and Stuttgart, Germany. We believe this model can be adapted for corporations with similar travel patterns and needs."

The Toulouse-based manufacturer believes dedicated scheduled services could be established between major commercial centres where customer demand exists for a high frequency or regular service.

Under the terms of the concept Airbus would lease the A319CJ to the corporate customer and an approved operator "preferably with knowledge of the business aircraft industry" would be responsible for managing the service on behalf of the customer.

The airframe manufacturer is in talks with operators globally, one of which is believed to be US fractional ownership provider Flight Options, as well as potential customers. "It is very difficult to change people's perception of travel, especially corporations which do not have a travel department and are therefore unused to the flexibility that business aircraft travel can bring. We believe that once they experience the A319CJ with its low operating costs, long range and large cabin, this market will take off," says Gaona. A range of cabin configurations is being discussed, from 10 to 45 seats.

Meanwhile, two A319CJs have been sold to Athens, Greece-based luxury services provider SAPO. The International Aero Engines V2500-powered aircraft are to enter service in the second and fourth quarter of next year after completion at Ozark Aircraft Systems in the USA. The aircraft will kick-start SAPO's independent international private charter airline, an enterprise which it formerly operated under a joint venture agreement with PrivatAir of Switzerland.

SAPO owner and chairman Georges Samaha says: "With more than 12,000 customers we feel it is time for us to run our airline independently. Further aircraft orders are likely."

Source: Flight International