PrivatAir formally launches U.S. charter program

 - August 30, 2007, 5:58 AM

Executive aircraft operator PrivatAir is preparing for a full launch of its Select Membership block charter program later this year in the U.S. and expects to extend it to European customers early next year. The Swiss-based company has been quietly offering Select Membership to some clients in the U.S. over the past two years and has used the time to refine its pricing and service structure.

Under Select Membership, customers place cash deposits starting at $100,000 in an escrow account managed by a third party. These funds are then used to pay for occupied flight hours in various categories of aircraft at guaranteed rates and with assured availability. Clients are free to leave the program at any time, and all remaining money will be fully refunded.

The program offers four groups of aircraft: light (including the Hawker Beechcraft Beechjet 400A, Cessna Citation Encore and Bravo and the Bombardier Learjet 31A); midsize (Hawker 800XP, Learjet 60 and Citation Excel); super-midsize/heavy (Gulfstream G200, Bombardier Challenger 601 and Embraer Legacy); and premier/ heavy (GIV-SP, Dassault Falcon 900EX and Challenger 604). Flight-hour rates (see box above) are offered for either one-way trips (with no positioning costs) or on a round-trip basis.

Members are guaranteed availability of aircraft, and PrivatAir provides free upgrades if a jet within the customer’s chosen category is not available. Clients who deposit between $100,000 and $249,999 are guaranteed an aircraft with 18 hours’ notice; those who deposit more than $250,000 are guaranteed availability with 12 hours’ notice.

“The key difference with this product [compared to traditional block charter programs and fractional ownership] is that customers don’t have to invest capital and they don’t have to commit to a specific number of hours that have to be used within a specified period,” PrivatAir chief executive Greg Thomas told AIN.

PrivatAir is working on the changes necessary to introduce the program in Europe. These changes will have to take into account higher operating costs and different trip profiles, but Thomas hopes to see “interchangeability” of services for customers on both sides of the Atlantic.