German airline launches private jet service

 - January 30, 2007, 10:48 AM

Lufthansa passengers can now book NetJets Europe aircraft to fly them to and from the German flag carrier’s main long-haul hub at Munich. The new Lufthansa Private Jets service, which was set to begin at the start of the summer airline schedule on March 29, will offer passengers fast and direct connections between the Lufthansa airliners and their chartered business jet.

Flights will be available to and from about 1,000 airports in Europe. Lufthansa eventually may extend the service to its other main hub at Frankfurt, although slot restrictions at Germany’s busiest airport may make that difficult. There may also be flights into Hamburg Airport.

NetJets will provide the flights in its Cessna Citation Excels and Bravos. The fractional provider currently has 37 of these types in its European fleet and is due to add another 14 by year-end.

Lufthansa Private Jet’s all-inclusive, occupied-hours prices are based on a series of 10 fare zones. For example, a flight from Lugano, Switzerland (which is in the closest “zone 0”) to Munich would cost e4,550 ($6,026) in a Bravo and  e5,650 ($7,483) in the larger Excel. Unlike prices for standard executive charter services, these cover only one passenger; additional travelers pay up to e300 ($396) each.

Prices from Zone 1 (including Paris) rise to e6,250 ($8,278) for the Bravo and e7,350 ($9,734) for the Excel. For flights to and from Zone 9 (which extends as far east as Moscow) the prices are e18,410 ($24,382) for the Bravo and e19,150 ($25,362) for the Excel (see map and chart for full details).

Passengers can book a flight with 24 hours’ notice. Lufthansa passengers can also charter the NetJets Citation Bravos (but not yet the Excels) for trips between any two points in Europe, subject also to zonal pricing.

According to charter broker Air Partner International, European executive charter operators can offer the same services at much lower prices. However, when AIN used the AirCharterGuide.com Web site to book a light business jet for the 50-minute flight from Lugano to Munich at 24-hours notice, the only rate it could find was $7,471 (e5,585), similar to the Lufthansa Private Jet price.

Business Travel with Airline Advantages
Passengers can book the Private Jet flights through dedicated Lufthansa hotlines and earn 10,000 frequent flier miles in the Star Alliance program for each flight they book. Lufthansa can issue a single through ticket covering the private jet service and the scheduled flight.

Passengers and their bags are checked through to their final destination. This is done through separate facilities at Munich for passport control, customs clearance and a security check. Travelers will be taken across the airport ramp between the business jet and the airliner, completing the necessary formalities en route.

According to Lufthansa, the maximum required connection time at Munich is 35 minutes. In some instances, the improved connection times will eliminate the need for passengers to make time-consuming and expensive stopovers to use Lufthansa’s long-haul scheduled services.

The airline also intends that flight attendants on long-haul Lufthansa services will be able to call ahead to book a private jet to meet passengers arriving back in Germany. This might happen, for instance, when a scheduled flight has been delayed to the extent that the passenger is likely to miss a connecting airline flight.

The companies will test the Lufthansa Private Jet service with the airline’s first- and business-class passengers, as well as members of the HON circle, the highest echelon of the airline’s frequent-flyer program.

The agreement between NetJets and Lufthansa is exclusive in the sense that NetJets will not offer the same arrangements to rival carriers. However, there is scope for the service to be extended to Lufthansa operations on other continents, as well as to other airlines in the Star Alliance.

Charter Service or Not?
NetJets Europe announced the partnership to existing customers before announcing it at a March 9 press conference in Munich. According to NetJets Europe communications director Robert Dranitzke, the company’s customers were given a written assurance that the company’s commitment to Lufthansa would in no way compromise the flight availability guarantees made to its aircraft share-owners and charter card customers.

NetJets has insisted that it has no intention of chartering its fleet. However, according to Air Partner International, it is doing just that and diluting its fractional ownership brand. “This means you no longer need to buy a share or a card; just phone Lufthansa and they will sell you a one-off flight on the NetJets fleet,” commented Air Partner executive charter director David Macdonald.

Lufthansa Private Jet passengers do not have guaranteed aircraft availability in the same way that NetJets customers do, although Lufthansa does have certain unspecified guarantees. Lufthansa has not purchased any shares in NetJets aircraft, but it may do so if it continues the Private Jet program beyond the trial period.

Subject to demand, different NetJets Europe aircraft might be added to the service.
Lufthansa is not the only airline to offer business jet services, but it is the first to do so on this scale and with the expressed intention of connecting with scheduled flights.

In the Middle East, Qatar Airways makes a pair of Bombardier Global Expresses available to its passengers for charter.

Similarly, in the Far East, Global Wings charters its Learjet 45XR to customers of Air China (under whose aircraft operators certificate it flies).

In the U.S., Delta Air Lines offers block and ad hoc business jet charter through various options under its Delta AirElite program. Customers can buy blocks of charter time in aircraft operated by Delta partners or book individual flights on a pay-as-
you-go basis. Delta AirElite doesn’t allow passengers to connect directly with Delta’s scheduled flights and they don’t all earn frequent-flier miles.