Kate Sarsfield / London

Programme aimed at niche between ad hoc charter and fractional ownership, as well as exploiting airline link

Delta AirElite Business Jets has launched a block charter programme designed to plug the gap between ad hoc charter and fractional ownership. The move is also aimed at attracting a new category of customer and to maximise the company's position as a Delta Air Lines subsidiary.

Delta AirElite president and chief executive Mike Green says: "There is a big hole in the market which is not served by charter or fractional. People are looking for a reliable programme which offers a high standard of service without the expense of fractional ownership or the inconsistent standards often associated with ad hoc charter."

The Fleet Membership programme will mainly be targeted at corporate flight departments looking for regular supplemental lift, those scaling down their operations, and companies with a requirement for a business aircraft but a reluctance to have the asset on their balance sheets. Customers could include individuals seeking two-way travel rather than a single sector.

Cincinnati, Ohio-based Delta AirElite was formed following the acquisition three years ago of Comair Jet Express by Delta Air Lines. The subsidiary is, says Delta AirElite, the only business jet charter and management company owned by a major airline - a position it is keen to exploit.

Green says: "Delta wants to retain its high-end customers and keep them flying within its family. Business aircraft users do have occasion to travel on airlines, but there is no facility for them to earn any status on the airlines."

In response, Delta AirElite has launched a loyalty scheme to reward Fleet Membership customers. "By signing up to theprogramme, customers are awarded points which can be offset against Delta Air Lines' SkyMiles Medallion programme. The cost savings could benefit a number of companies as travel is a key factor driving corporate spending," Green says. Ad hoc charter customers also earn qualifying miles on Delta Air Lines based on the total business aircraft expenditure.

The programme is divided into three tiers based on the number of hours required: Silver 25h; Gold 50h and Platinum 100h.

Members select an aircraft category - light, midsize and large business jet - although it is possible to downsize or upgrade, Green says. Membership fees start at $99,500 for 25 hours on a light jet and, based on the category of aircraft, an occupied hourly rate is also levied.

"We offer a guaranteed response time of 12h maximum and will reward customers who use the aircraft for two way travel, with extra hours [on top of their allocation]," Green adds.

Green says around 300 corporations have expressed interest in the Membership programme, which will have a dedicated fleet of nine business jets, consisting of Bombardier Learjet 60s and Challengers, operated by Delta AirElite.

The 20 aircraft in the company's managed fleet as well as the 250 aircraft in the affiliate fleet will also be available. Green says new aircraft will be added to the Delta fleet as demand dictates.

Source: Flight International