A simple conversation with a fellow passenger was the inspiration behind changing entrepreneur Lawrence Hunt into an airline owner with a vision that is the envy of many in the business aviation industry.

“We talked about the hassle of travel and how frequent busy business travellers didn’t want to spend hours at the airport wandering through duty free stores. We just wanted to get on and get there, “ Hunt recalls.

The result is Silverjet – the dedicated all-business-class airline operating twice daily between London and New York.

The airline that has been operating for just five months and CEO Hunt says it is already demonstrating successes beyond the original business plan.

Silverjet has applied many of the ideas that have worked in business and corporate aviation. It has its own dedicated terminal at Luton, away from the main airport check-in area. 

Just like a well-run FBO, guests arrive at the lounge, their luggage is whisked away and check-in formalities are carried out from the comfort of an armchair. The company takes away the hassle of security with a dedicated customer experience executive to look at the entire journey, echoing moves made by Netjets and other large charter operators.

 “Why put up with a service where you pay lots of money for something which does not challenge the accepted norm?” challenges Silverjet’s Finance Director, John Bavister. Silverjet became the third operator to enter the premium UK transatlantic market in 18 months. US carriers Eos and MAXjet offer premium Boeing 757 and 767 services, respectively out of Stansted to JFK.

Elsewhere in Europe, French carrier L’Avion offers Paris to Newark. Lufthansa (LHT) services four routes with 48-seat business class only aircraft via PrivatAir on A320s.  KLM flies a daily service between Amsterdam and Houston with 44 flat bed seats on a 737 while Swiss has a Zurich – Newark 737 service.

According to Hunt there were a lot of people looking for easier, more exclusive travel that wouldn’t take the giant step to full business charter or ownership.

 “We spent time talking to customers. We were in airports mixing with people in the queues landside, asking did they find the service satisfactory. It was apparent there was no real innovation. People were herded through. There is a point in mass travel where you are not being treated personally. We looked at a typical business person: they rush from office to the plane. Their time is valuable. They don’t want to spend two to three hours in the airport. We said ‘let’s do something about this. We had that genus of an idea and started working on our model long before Eos and MAXjet started up.”

Silverjet’s offering slots comfortably between those of Eos and MAXjet. The Silverjet 767 is configured in a 2+2+2 layout for 100 passengers. The aircraft is equipped with specially made seats with simple seat controls. It offers the largest table top on any business class airline. The lie flat seats offer 6’ 3” (1.9m) of space, with a built-in reading light, laptop power and a seat back massager. The IFE system, the “Silver Screen” is designed for ease of use, with a 7” (18cm) screen. There are five bathrooms and built in wardrobes for extra luggage.

The all-business class sector has been ripe for development since the demise of Concorde according to Eos’ senior vice president John Morgan. "There is a definite need for our service. People who are prepared to pay more to travel have certain expectations. It is a big positive for us that Concorde is no longer around."

The all-business idea is not new. Switzerland based PrivatAir is credited with devising the concept. Founded back in 1977 as a private VIP operator, in 2002 it devised a service from Dusseldorf to New York in conjunction with LHT. PrivatAir now operates six all-business Atlantic crossings per  day – daily returns between Munich-Newark, Düsseldorf-Newark and Dusseldorf-Chicago. In January 2005 the carrier teamed with Swiss and now provides a six times a week service between Zurich and Newark. The following October it began service with KLM  on a 737-700, again flying six times a week. The BBJ features 44 Reynard-supplied lie-flat seats at 60in seat pitch, with no middle seats. PrivatAir plans to put another eight all-business-class aircraft into operation over the next three years.

Source: Flight Daily News