British Airways and Virgin Atlantic blame economic uncertainty on cancelled plans

The two largest UK carriers have pulled out of business jet operations, citing economic uncertainty. British Airways has withdrawn from its deal with corporate aircraft charter broker Air Partner, while Virgin Atlantic has put on hold plans to launch a first-class transatlantic corporate service.

The Air Partner service in association with BA, called Business Jets, was suspended late last month due to increased marketing costs, BA says. The UK flag carrier says that whilst customer demand for the service has been strong, an increased focus on core business following the downturn triggered by the terrorist attacks in the USA has forced it to "stop making the service available". The service, launched in April, had been set to run for one year before BA re-assessed the market for providing its European passengers with the ability to charter a corporate aircraft to airports not served by the airline.

BA says that it is looking at alternative ways to provide its top customers onward private jet transport. BA had no investment in the scheme other than providing marketing support. Both companies decline to comment on plans.

Meanwhile, Virgin Atlantic is blaming the economic downturn and the re-launch of BA Concorde services for the cancellation of its plans for a business aviation subsidiary. Virgin had drawn up business plans for a new division, provisionally dubbed Virgin Jetset, following the lack of an ultra-deluxe first class offering between London and New York after BA withdrew its Aérospatiale/BAe Concorde fleet last August.

Virgin Group says that the Virgin Jetset plan had hit difficulties even before the events of 11 September. "The biggest problem was finding a viable airport near to the M25 [London orbital motorway]," says Virgin. The airline had planned to use a fleet of six Bombardier Global Express aircraft, equipped with 18 flat-bed seats, on services between a secondary London airfield and a similar site in upstate New York, such as White Plains, Westchester County. Virgin says that it had encountered problems "getting the number of movements we need with the Global Express out of Farnborough or Northholt".

Virgin now says that the long-term viability of Jetset will be reviewed in the next 18 months, but any service is unlikely before 2005.

Source: Flight International