Internet charter broker eBizJets claims to have recorded a 400% increase in business

Business aircraft operators are witnessing a massive upturn in interest as companies and wealthy individuals turn their backs on the airlines following the terrorist attacks on the Pentagon and World Trade Center.

US internet charter broker eBizJets.com has recorded a 400% increase in business since 11 September. Although some of the demand has stemmed from the repositioning of stranded employees, the trend looks set to continue upwards. "Customers want to know who they are travelling with - safety has now become the priority," says eBizJets co-founder and vice president of sales Paul Svensen.

One prominent fractional ownership provider agrees: "In the USA there has been a big reaction against commercial airline travel. The events of 11 September have brought home to so many companies and individuals the value of secure travel."

The fractional ownership market, known for its high level of customer security, is witnessing phenomenal demand for its programmes with "sales enquiries soaring 100-fold" at a number of companies, says fractional operator Flight Options. Many admit, however, that while interest is unusually high, it is too early to determine how many enquiries will translate into sales.

Flight Options says it is operating more than 100 flights a day against around 60 flights normally at this time of the year. Jim Miller, vice president of the Cleveland, Ohio-based company admits: "We plan to operate around 105 aircraft by the end of March next year, but if demand continues we shall have to re-evaluate our forecast."

Fractional newcomer United BizJet, a subsidiary of United Airlines, is keen to accelerate entry into the market to satisfy demand, although first aircraft are not expected to enter service until the second quarter of next year.

In Europe the knock-on effect for business aircraft operators is also being felt, although some of the demand, particularly for charter operators, has derived from transatlantic movements. David Savile, managing director of Air Partner, arguably Europe's largest air charter broker, says the heightened demand for business aircraft, notably for top company executives, will continue as major corporations are forced to rethink their travel priorities. He says: "Safety and security [rather than cost] have now been pushed to the top of the priority list. There could also be an increase in the use of corporate shuttles."

A leading operator supports this view: "There has been a big shift in attitude in Europe, notably from larger companies, which have until now steered clear of business aircraft due to financial and image concerns."

The 54th National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) convention has been rescheduled for the 12 to 14 December in New Orleans, Louisiana. The annual meeting of members will be held on 31 October in Washington DC. The world's largest business aviation event was originally scheduled for 18 to 20 September but was cancelled following the terrorist attacks. Raytheon Aircraft has already said it will not attend the convention and others could follow suit. The convention will still include exhibits and a static display of aircraft, says NBAA, but new sessions on aviation security and safety issues will be added.

Source: Flight International