Bombardier claims to have had a positive response to the expansion of the Skyjet business jet block charging program across five continents. Skyjet International, which combines the former Bombardier Flexjet Europe and Flexjet Asia/Pacific programs with a new Middle East operation, was established in February as a global system also incorporating the North American catchment area of the U.S.-based Bombardier Skyjet network.
Each program has been built around Bombardier equipment exclusively. Indeed, one of its primary goals is to stimulate new aircraft sales. Nearly 40 percent of European orders for Bombardier business aircraft in a recent 12-month period featured access to the program as an important element of the sale.
The initiative has had two main results, according to Skyjet International managing director Judith Moreton: “Customers that did not previously subscribe to the program because it was not global are now coming on board, and the balance of the business is becoming more corporate.” Moreton told Aviation International News that the average size of blocks of charter hours being booked is growing as many customers move from 25- to 50-hour units to larger 100- to 150-hour bookings.
While private charter activity continues alongside growing corporate business, Moreton said the system is becoming “genuinely multibased–not just [within] Europe or the U.S., but international, with regular requirements for travel to, say, the Middle East, Europe or Asia (typically China).”
For the first quarter of 2005, Skyjet achieved a 25-percent year-on-year gain in charter hours flown. It is now projecting a 40-percent increase for the 2005-09 timeframe. “We are overperforming, but it is early and [that] might not be repeated; it’s bound to level off, but we’re extremely encouraged,” said Moreton.
The Canadian manufacturer estimates that it sold about 5,000 block hours last year, of which it reckons some 90 percent was taken up by customers. Subscribers must use (or lose) at least 75 percent of the time booked, although Moreton believes some actually used as much as 125 percent of their allocation of flight hours.
Skyjet has not yet won any business in the Middle East but has confidence in the market analysis that supported its opening an office in Dubai. “We know there is demand. We are generating a surprising amount of interest [and] there is a lot happening: politically, barriers are coming down in areas such as Pakistan and Saudi Arabia, and flight standards and security also are driving demand.”
Middle East Interest
Apart from local Dubai interest, Moreton said there has been “active encouragement” from states such as Bahrain and Qatar. There is “lots of traffic” from Europe to these destinations and the Far East, and from the Middle East to London, Paris and Moscow. There also has been higher than expected Asia/Pacific traffic to the Middle East.
India is becoming very important, as “enormous” local economic growth exceeds even that of China, according to Moreton. Skyjet International’s Dubai manager is now visiting India not at the expected monthly frequency but once a week.
As with China, a major factor in India is inadequate infrastructure, which is stimulating demand. “Developing nations are feeling the pressure to improve infrastructure provision and to relax some negative ‘issues’–something which business aviation needs to support,” said Moreton.
An example of the latter is work by Bombardier and Skyjet International with Japan on infrastructure and access, as well as legal problems between Japan and China. The manufacturer also is working with the Russian government to make airspace access more open to corporate aviation.
Although Skyjet International concedes that the vast bulk of aircraft is based in the U.S., Moreton said that up to 200 of the 900-strong Skyjet fleet are in other regions. These include 60 to 70 in Europe, 20 in the Middle East and about 10 in Asia/Pacific, as well as others in Russia, Australia and Africa.