Charter broker Air Partner has issued a profits warning due to a sharp downturn in bookings in the final quarter of 2002, but expects business to recover in the event of a war in the Gulf.

"The slowdown has been as if a switch were flicked in November," says chairman Tony Mack. The company issued a warning last week of "substantially" lower profits for the six months to February compared with the same period last year, before the start of the economic slowdown.

Mack says he is still optimistic about Air Partner's planned expansion, which he says will now "take longer to come to fruition", and about the opportunities opened up by the collapse of its US rival FlightTime (Flight International, 15-22 October 2002).

The company now admits that the expansion, which involved taking on FlightTime employees, has severely affected the bottom line. Plans to expand further by opening 17 new offices in Johannesburg, the USA, western Europe, Hong Kong, Singapore and Sydney over the next five to 10 years have now been shelved.

The company's best chance now may be an anticipated rise in demand for private charters resulting from the outbreak of war in Iraq. "The Gulf War was a windfall for us. We'd hate to say 'yippee, we're going to war', but I guess the net effect would be positive," Mack says. The company carried 4,000t of military cargo in the run-up to Operation Desert Storm in 1990-91.

Source: Flight International