Geneva-based PrivatAir has been operating at the top end of the private charter market for 20 years. These days it has three BBJs – Boeing Business Jets – in its fleet, which means that it can offer governments, business executives and celebrities long-range flights to destinations and schedules specified by the clients themselves.
BBJs are based on Boeing’s next-generation 737-700s. This means at 110ft long they are the size of a 737 – but designed and equipped for private jet travel. The 737 in a mainstream fleet will seat typically 230 passengers.
PrivatAir will furnish the BBJ for up to 40 people, but more usually 28 or even just 18.
In the world of business travel of course, space means luxury and the BBJ has space in abundance. The fact that it is fitted out to accommodate only a small group of people means passengers get more than just a serious amount of leg room, there is enough room left over in the passenger cabin to accommodate bedrooms and meeting areas. The 807-square-foot passenger cabin has nearly three times the space of the largest executive jets.
And the interior can be arranged with conference rooms, executive offices and individual work areas to suit.
The idea is that the business traveller needs an ‘office in the air’.
PrivatAir’s BBJs are kitted out with satellite telecommunications, as well as mobile armchairs for impromptu meetings, PC facilities – everything they could need to prepare for meetings or stay in touch with base from 41,000ft up in the air.
The whole experience reeks of exclusivity. The Boeing literature proudly credits the designers responsible for the interior. Crew members are attentive.
The bedroom, reclining chairs and in-flight entertainment systems are there to make sure that down times are relaxing or stimulating as required.
You get the impression that it’s not designed for the kind of passenger who would be prepared to put up with either discomfort or even something as ubiquitous to flying as boredom.
And indeed PrivatAir does boast some very high profile clients: heads of state, celebrities, sport teams and the super-rich among them. Many of these require a confidential service, but the airline does name the Rolling Stones, the cast of the last Bond movie and Leeds United (the team uses the airline for European fixtures) among its customers.
And if this sounds excessive and well out of your price range, the airline says that the service is affordable too. PrivatAir can fly 20 people from London to New York and back for the same price that a commercial airline would charge for 20 business class tickets. The added space and comfort factor and the fact that customers can stipulate when they want to fly out and return more than differentiates the company from ordinary business class.
James Hay, PrivatAir’s commercial director says: ‘What the BBJs allow PrivatAir to do is to argue the case for private aviation on a straight cost basis. We can fly a group of people (normally 18-plus works) to a destination, or several destinations, cheaper than they could fly on business class on a scheduled carrier. That’s an argument even shareholders can understand.
‘An example that I use is London to New York. Full fare business class for a group of 20 executives would cost a total of #66,000. If you were to charter our 28-seat BBJ then the cost would be in the region of #69,000 depending on length of stay – not bad when you consider the advantages of flying privately.
‘The argument gains greater weight when you want to leave from Leeds and travel to Cincinnati and you save two aircraft changes with all the hassle that that entails.’
PrivatAir is pushing for a large share of the VIP air travel market in Europe and gains an advantage from being the first to market a service that will tailor a schedule to a client. ‘There are no airlines in the world like PrivatAir, who own and operate their own fleet of large long-range aircraft,’ says Hay. ‘There are a few companies who manage an individual aircraft and who charter our spare capacity, and of course we do compete against them on a direct basis – but they do not specialise in this market.
We also compete against schedule carriers as everyone has the option of flying first or business class as an alternative to PrivatAir.’
The appeal for the rich and famous – people who want a confidential service – is obvious. But for business travellers, PrivatAir is pushing a business case. ‘If an executive is paid a substantial remuneration package, then to pay him to sit around at an airport terminal is not an optimum use of resources,’ says Hay.
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