VistaJet has finally addressed the "missing link" in its global private jet charter company, launching an expansion into the US market with 12 Bombardier Global business jets that will be operated and managed by Jet Aviation and sold on a block-hour basis by start-up company Wheels Up.

The service scheduled to begin in March will establish VistaJet for the first time in the US market, following its worldwide service already reaching Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

"The missing link really was to come to the United States," says Thomas Flohr, VistaJet founder and chairman, at an event in New York today.

The US operation will leverage Jet Aviation's existing air operator certificate (AOC) and the sales expertise of Wheels Up founder Kenny Dichter. Before launching Wheels Up in August, Dichter invented the fractional jet card concept with Marquis Jet.

The initial goal for VistaJet in the US market is for Dichter's Wheels Up to sell 5,000 block hours on the 12 VistaJet-owned Bombardier Global aircraft operated by Jet Aviation to about 40 customers within the first year, Dichter says.

By the third year, VistaJet hopes to begin expanding its US fleet operated by Jet Aviation beyond the initial 12 aircraft, Flohr says. The long-term goal is have as many as 50 US-based jets serving US customers in five to 10 years, Dichter adds.

VistaJet will require each customer to buy a minimum of 100 block hours each year, although Dichter expects the average sale will be around 150 block hours.

The relationship with Jet Aviation, which owns 200 private aircraft including dozens of Bombardier jets, lends another advantage to the partnership. If VistaJet is unable to meet demand with only the 12 jets initially based in the USA, Jet Aviation can draw upon its own fleet to fill any gaps.

"You have a built-in back-up with Jet [Aviation]," Dichter says.

At the moment, the VistaJet teaming arrangement with Jet Aviation and Wheels Up has no effect on VistaJet's partnership with Flexjet. Since 2010, Flexjet allows travelers on VistaJet's long-range Global jets to transfer onto its fleet of light and midisize cabin jets between destinations in the USA. That has not changed even after Bombardier agreed on 5 September to sell Flexjet to Directional Aviation Capital, a Cleveland-based private equity firm owned by Kenn Ricci.

The new partnership, however, finally establishes VistaJet in the US market, which it had previously ceded to competitors such as NetJets. Flohr had once told Flightglobal that Americans do not value VistaJet's luxury services. But he says he has since witnessed new trends emerging, with US corporations wanting more access to global destinations and less exposure to the risks of direct ownership of business jets.

Dichter promises that the new VistaJet team will spark a new wave of demand in the guaranteed charter market by block-hour within the USA by 2020.

"If there's 1,000 people in the game today," Dicther says, "there will be 2,000 in seven years."

Source: Flight International