Fractional ownership giant NetJets Europe is shedding the equivalent of 300 flightcrew positions - just under 30% of its pilot workforce - as the recession continues to hit corporate and VIP travel.

However, the Lisbon-based business - a subsidiary of investment guru Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway - is hoping a combination of voluntary redundancies and agreements with pilots to cut working hours will drastically reduce the need for compulsory job losses "as seen elsewhere in the industry".

"Although we would save more by simply sacking 300 pilots, the sort of culture that we want here means that we would rather hold onto as many of our people as possible and allow them to continue their careers with us," chief operating officer Robert Dranitzke told Flightglobal.

A deadline for applications has passed and the company, which was established in 1996, is currently in negotiations with its employees.

 © NetJets

NetJets employs 1,046 flightcrew, who work up to 200 duty days each a year. "We have told our people that we have 60,000 excess duty days that we need to get rid of," says Dranitzke.

The move comes after a period of expansion by the company in the last few years. After losing a cumulative $212 million in its first decade, NetJets Europe's earnings tripled in 2007 and it added more than 200 crew in 2008, having taken on 341 new pilots in 2007.

Earlier this year, however, it slashed its planned business jet deliveries by 60% as the economic downturn started to squeeze the business aviation market.

At the time it said it would take delivery of only 10 aircraft this year, including Hawker 750s, Dassault Falcon 2000EX/LXs and a 7X. The operator added 30 aircraft to its fleet in 2008 and was planning to receive up to 27 this year, which would have taken its fleet to nearly 200 business jets. NetJets Europe says it has spent much time and effort collaborating with its staff on the voluntary programme. This includes a combination of financial and benefit-based incentives to reduce available work days, including voluntary redundancy, part-time working, leave of absence involving long-term career breaks, and job sharing.

"We believe the range of options in this programme is unprecedented within the industry and reflects our desire to minimise potential disruption to people's lives and careers," says the company.

Source: Flight International