How elastic is an airline brand? Two of the big three Gulf airlines have built on their reputations for innovative customer service with VIP charter spin-offs to tap a market beyond their top-end scheduled products.

Qatar Airways is growing its Qatar Executive fleet of Bombardiers with Gulfstreams. Emirates may expand its charter offering, launched last year with an Airbus A319 fitted with 10 self-contained berths, a dining room and shower/spa. Such ventures would appear, on the surface, sensible, allowing airlines to target customers who can afford the privacy, comfort and flexibility that even first-class airline tickets cannot provide, and who otherwise would be lost to the brand.

But other carriers looking to leap into this segment beware. Fifty years ago, Pan Am set up a US-based business jet venture with Dassault to operate its new Falcon 20 business jet. As with similar schemes by other airlines since, it was not successful.

The Middle East, with its close-knit, wealthy families, is one market where the concept can work. The global hub status of Doha and Dubai also helps Qatar Airways and Emirates push their products into regions such as Africa, China, India and Russia, where the blend of brand and luxury appeals to upmarket clients.

As is often the case, their peculiar circumstances mean the Gulf’s big carriers can get around the laws of business that make such ventures reckless elsewhere.

Source: Flight International