EBACE Convention News

Soccer in Moscow drives jet charters

 - May 21, 2008, 11:18 AM

If parts of northern Europe were overshadowed yesterday by large numbers of aircraft flying east, it was not the much-vaunted arrival of very-light jets but merely private and chartered business-jets flying well-heeled soccer enthusiasts to Moscow for the European Champions League soccer final. The event is perhaps the greatest sporting occasion in the region’s calendar, ranking in popularity among the seriously wealthy alongside the Monaco Grand Prix Formula 1 motor race, which itself takes place this coming weekend in Monte Carlo.

Two sets of circumstances have coincided this year to raise the event’s profile, possibly further stimulating interest and therefore executive travel demand: the match involves two English teams playing against each other, as well as the prospect of a Russian-owned overseas club appearing in the year that Moscow hosts the event. While potential visa-allocation procedural “issues” have been resolved, allowing ordinary fans with tickets to attend by whatever travel means they can afford, there has been tremendous demand for private-aircraft capacity from London-based Russians.

Kurosh Tehranchian, chief executive of Ocean Sky, told EBACE Convention News that his entire fleet of Bombardier aircraft was in Moscow for the match, supported by an additional chartered machine. Likewise, the Air Partner Private Jets complement of aircraft was booked for the event, said managing director Justin Barber. Other EBACE exhibitors offering charter capacity and or brokerage services here told similar tales of high demand for aircraft to meet requirements for such events.

Tehranchian sent Ocean Sky’s pair of Bombardier Challenger 604s and a 605, and chartered a smaller Learjet 60. He said demand had been of the “usual” level, but he spoke of problems facing operators needing take-off and landing slots and parking spaces. For him, that consideration was eased, since the company has a Moscow office at Vnukovo airport, although yesterday morning he could obtain a departure slot only eight hours later than he had requested.  

With a soccer final taking place between rival northern and southern English teams–Manchester United and Chelsea, respectively–already generating high levels of enthusiastic support, interest has been much higher given the fact that the London-based club is owned by Russian “oiligarch” Roman Abramovich. “Three of the four aircraft we had going to Moscow had Russian passengers,” said Tehranchian.
Air Partner’s long experience in the executive-jet charter business meant that it had booked hotel rooms “months ahead,” long before it was known which teams from the many participating European nations would be in the final match. He likened the Champions League final to the U.S. “Super Bowl” event for its impact on the popular psyche, with a related stimulus to business-aircraft demand from attendees.

“We have our entire fleet there,” he explained. Air Partner Private Jets operates six Bombardier Learjet 45s and a lone Learjet 40 from Biggin Hill Airport (southeast of London), while Ocean Sky flies its aircraft from London Luton airport (north of the capital).  

Antwerp-based FlyingGroup said available slots at Vnukovo had been taken very much in advance of the event, with space reserved only for aircraft involved in carrying the participating teams to Moscow. Commercial executive Jeroen Van Doorslaer said there had been no direct demand from owners of 20 private jets the company managed at Antwerp, Cannes, Paris and Rotterdam, but there had been calls from charter brokers seeking capacity.

Representatives of fellow Belgian operator Abelag Aviation manning their booth here were uncertain what demand there had been for its fleet of 20 Beech, Bombardier, Cessna, and Dassault aircraft. But they agreed that this was a busy week with both the Champions League soccer final and the Monaco Grand Prix inevitably raising sufficient interest  to drive late requirements: “For sure, there will be have been last-minute demand,” concluded managing director Eric Geyskens.