BBJ service mulled for Geneva-to-New York run

 - May 22, 2008, 5:55 AM

PrivatAir has begun feasibility studies into launching scheduled flights from Geneva to New York using a 48-seat Boeing Business Jet. The service would aim to be the first ever “FBO to FBO” scheduled commercial air service, and would initially be built on the travel needs of three or four noncompeting corporations with major offices in Geneva, where PrivatAir is headquartered.

According to Dave Kinson, the company’s executive v-p of marketing and business development, the current world security and economic crisis has provided an opportunity for business aviation to “go mainstream.” He predicted that a small group of surviving mega-carriers will now take all the “middle market” for air transport, and that executive aircraft operators should fill the gap by providing the new top echelon of scheduled service.

PrivatAir has been closely monitoring the situation at local flag carrier Swissair, which recently came close to complete collapse. PrivatAir is unlikely to press ahead with scheduled service plans until the airline’s future has been resolved. Without direct transatlantic services from Geneva, local business people are obliged to connect with flights from Zurich or other crowded European hubs.

Through its acquisition of the U.S. Flight Services Group earlier this year, PrivatAir now operates a total of 55 managed and charter aircraft. At Geneva it bases three BBJs and a 47-seat Boeing 757. The company is now opening a new office at the Los Angeles-area Van Nuys Airport.

Kinson told AIN that in the weeks since September 11 there has been a “dulling” in demand for transatlantic charter flights, especially in larger business aircraft. By contrast, demand has increased for smaller aircraft and the company is now looking to diversify its equipment in Europe by persuading owners to join PrivatAir’s management fleet.

According to Kinson, business aviation has actually become more “acceptable” in European corporate circles since September 11. PrivatAir has experienced a growth in charter inquiries from a wider array of potential customers, including lawyers and corporate travel managers.

“What we are going through now is not really a downturn like that which we experienced during the first quarter of this year,” said Kinson. He reported that there is still sufficient aircraft utilization from PrivatAir’s core customers. The 48-seat BBJ, for example, already has 200 days of bookings for next year. “Essential business travel is still happening; promotional and incentive travel is generally not going ahead,” Kinson concluded.

Demand for the company’s new luxury tours is softening as wealthy individuals nervously watch their stock market portfolios.