Financial scandals, a currency in freefall and riots outside Parliament, the people of Iceland - until last year considered among the most lucky on Earth - have not had much to smile about.

With the 2008 Icesave banking collapse tarnishing the country's reputation as a mid-Atlantic haven of prosperity, now might seem the worst time for any business to market itself under the Iceland brand.

However, Jon Ingi Jonsson, managing director of three-year-old Rekjavik-based Dornier 328Jet charter operator Icejet, says that after considering changing it, the company is sticking with its name. He adds that - following a torrid six months for Icejet - business is improving.

IceJet Dornier 328
 © Icejet

"There has been an increase in bookings and there is less fighting among brokers on rates. The leisure market is picking up as summer approaches," says Jonsson.

Iceland's problems at the end of last year almost destroyed the company, which is owned by New York-based Nordic Partners. "Our Icelandic business disappeared in October," he says. Emergency government currency restrictions meant "we had tremendous problems getting money in and out of Iceland", he adds, an issue that has now been resolved.

The company has five 328Jets - four 14-seat Envoys and one 19-seat Shuttle - and will have one on the static display at EBACE. It has opened a UK base at Oxford airport and says it is the only 328Jet operator able to fly into London City.

Oxford airport itself is at EBACE, keen to market its fixed-base operation, Oxfordjet, as an alternative to London airports such as Farnborough, Biggin Hill, Luton and Stansted. The airport is also attracting a growing number of business aviation tenants, some of which will be sharing its stand.

 © Icejet

They include PremiAir, which last month officially inaugurated a maintenance centre for Hawker Beechcraft aircraft at the airport. The hangar was previously operated by CSE Aviation and has been extensively refurbished.

Another is aircraft management and charter operator Hangar 8, which has added six business jets to its fleet in the past two months: a Hawker 900, three Citation Excels, a Bombardier Challenger 601 and a Bombardier CRJ200. A Hawker 900 and 750 will join soon, as will the first UK-registered Embraer Phenom 100. The company now has 20 aircraft in its fleet - with an average age of four years - and managing director Dustin Dryden expects the total to reach 30 by next year.

Hangar 8's customer base includes high net-worth individuals living in west London and the Thames Valley, as well as Formula 1 executives and professionals from the sport's UK manufacturing heartland in Oxfordshire and Warwickshire.

Dryden says that, although there has been "media pressure" on owners and business executives not to use private jets in the current economic climate, a core market of time-poor but wealthy customers remains. "Yes, people have downsized or been more discreet, but someone whose net worth has gone from $1.2 billion to $600 million still isn't going on Ryanair," he says.

Oxford airport-based executive helicopter management and charter operator Capital Air Services also claims to be defying the downturn by expanding its fleet with a Eurocopter EC155. Managing director Michael Hampton says the firm - which used to be known as Oxford Air Services and also operates two Sikorsky S-76s, two Eurocopter AS355 Twin Squirrels, two Eurocopter EC135s and two Agusta 109s - is expecting "brisk business" this summer, with a lot of demand for transport to sporting and cultural events. "People still want to travel and be entertained," he says. The company also specialises in transporting transplant organs and surgeons from an Oxford teaching hospital around the UK.

Embraer Phenom 100 start-up FlairJet plans to begin operations from Oxford at the end of the year, with two of the very light jets from the Brazilian manufacturer. Managing director David Fletcher is confident about prospects. "Preparing for business in the teeth of a recession gives us the opportunity to offer the Phenoms at competitive charter prices, especially as we are looking to tap a new market - travellers who wouldn't usually consider private charter because they perceive it as too expensive or are too intimidated by the process," he says. "Our USP is that we will deliver a transparent, easy to use, easy to book service."

Source: Flight Daily News