In search of a light jet, Unijet breaks tradition

 - May 7, 2008, 10:37 AM

French charter operator Unijet will further expand its Paris Le Bourget-based fleet next year when it takes delivery of a pair of Cessna Citation CJ2s. Having been exclusively a Dassault Falcon operator throughout its 35-year history, Unijet turned to the U.S. manufacturer after failing to persuade Dassault to offer a new light business jet.

“Dassault now has no entry-level aircraft,” Unijet CEO Dannys Famin told AIN. “I tried for at least three years to promote the idea of a refurbishment of the Falcon 10, but for this we would need Falcon 20 avionics, and Dassault just wasn’t interested. This is sad because I had always been proud to be a single-product operator.” (Dassault recently reopened the question of a smaller jet. See AIN, October, page 10.)

Nonetheless, Unijet certainly has not deserted Dassault and in mid-August took delivery of its second new Falcon 900EX, which joined a Falcon 50 and a pair of Falcon 10s. It is in the process of adding a second Falcon 50.

Unijet is primarily a long-range operator, but it wants the CJ2s to offer equipment better suited to all executive missions, both intra- and intercontinental.

It was with the long-range market in mind that Unijet has just opened a U.S. office in New Canaan, Conn., to serve as a reservations center for U.S. clients. It will also act as a charter broker for U.S. clients needing flights in other parts of the world, including the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

The new Unijet USA subsidiary, which is managed by director of sales and marketing Anne-Marie Allen, hopes to add an office in the Los Angeles area by year-end and another on its own side of the Atlantic in the UK next year. Allen (formerly Gram) held previous positions with Jet Aviation and Dassault Falcon Jet.

According to Famin, the long-range charter market is definitely weaker than it was last year, mainly, in his view, due to the difficulties being experienced by the U.S. economy. In Europe, demand also softened between last December and this past June, but has since started to build up again and the market for short-range flights is now “fairly steady” for Unijet.

Famin said the post-September 11 security restrictions on foreign operators entering the U.S. have become easier to deal with in recent months.

This year has also seen the company simplifying its name to Unijet, having previously traded as Leadair-Unijet since its merger with Leadair Jet Services. Famin said the change has been made because the full name had proved too much of a mouthful. Unijet was founded in 1967.