KATE SARSFIELD / LONDON Rising demand for business aircraft charter in region prompts operator to add to fleet

Bombardier Flexjet Asia-Pacific is planning to expand its fleet and route network in 2003 as demand for business aircraft charter begins to heat up in the region.

Flexjet's Asian charter network was launched in December 2001 and began operations in February with seven Bombardier business jets. "We have since added another aircraft and are scheduled to add two or possibly three more in 2003," says Greg Kalinin, Flexjet Asia Pacific managing director.

He notes that the Asian charter-based arm of US fractional ownership company has found notable success within China, where in December Flexjet added Lhasa Gongga in Tibet to its network, following a successful route-proving flight in December using a Challenger 604 large business jet.

Kalinin says the Chinese market is doing particularly well, "benefiting from a buoyant economy and strong international investment", which has led to increasing numbers of individuals and businesses using corporate aircraft.

Kalinin adds that the programme has benefited from partnering with Shandong Airlines' corporate aviation subsidiary Rainbow Jet, not least because it "understands" the workings of the military-controlled airspace. "These types of relationships are the best way forward and we would like to sign another partner within the next 12 months," he says. Other partners within the Flexjet Asia-Pacific network are Philippino Subic International Air Charter, Jet Asia of Macau, Singapore Technologies' Pacific Flight Services and ExecuJet Australia.

Flexjet is keen to expand its route network to include emerging markets such as India, where the explosion in high-technology companies has created a wealthy elite and made the country a sought-after destination for international investors.

Kalinin says charter is the first choice for customers and operators "for now", as the Asian market is too immature and complex to embrace the fractional ownership concept. Flexjet is eyeing possible block charter deals with companies based in or having connections within Asia to add to the recent contract between Rainbow Jet and Dutch energy company Shell. He says: "We are looking at the possibility of customers buying a block number of hours which will afford access across the entire network."

Source: Flight International