The major airlines have taken a big hit on high-yield premium fares during the economic downturn, and German flag carrier Lufthansa has removed first-class seats from some of its airliners to accommodate more passengers in economy class; nonetheless, the airline claims its Private Jet executive charter operation has continued to perform well as it passes its fifth anniversary.
According to a Lufthansa spokesman, Private Jet achieved 20-percent growth during 2009 and is operating an average of 10 flights per day.
Like other forms of charter, pricing is all-inclusive and based on distance flown rather than the number of seats occupied. What makes Lufthansa Private Jet different is passengers can book flights directly through the airline with a credit card, as if it were a scheduled flight. This avoids the need to deal with brokers and have complex contracts for each flight.
Importantly for passengers who don’t want to draw attention to the fact that they are flying in a private jet, the charge appears on the credit card statement as that for a normal scheduled flight. Customers are issued standard first-class airline tickets and even earn frequent-flier benefits through Lufthansa’s Miles and More program.
According to Lufthansa, the economic crisis is playing into its hands because travelers who might previously have been in the market to buy a business aircraft or a fractional share are coming to the airline. As with other forms of charter, no capital outlay is required to use the aircraft, but unlike mainstream charter, the connection with the airline sector provides a more seamless mode of service. Many Private Jet customers are connecting to or from scheduled airline flights operated by Lufthansa and its subsidiary Swiss through their hubs in Frankfurt, Munich and Zurich.
When Private Jet began operations in March 2005, Lufthansa became the first international carrier to offer a private jet service alongside its portfolio of scheduled flights. Nine new jets were then earmarked for the operation including two reconfigured 12-seat Bombardier CRJ200s that now are returning to the manufacturer following a change of strategy. Initially, it had operated the services through an alliance with fractional ownership provider NetJets Europe but this came to an end after the two operators could not agree on how to provide the flights.
Today’s all-Cessna Citation fleet comprises three four-passenger CJ1s, two six-seat CJ3s and a pair of seven-passenger XLS+ jets. Lufthansa is the European launch customer for the new XLS+ model.
Additional capacity is available from two partners, the Cirrus Group subsidiary DC Aviation and JetAlliance. Lufthansa says it is continuing to enjoy steady growth with the program but has no plans to add aircraft or other operating partners. The aircraft provided by DC Aviation and JetAlliance operate in Lufthansa colors with cabin furnishing bearing a strong resemblance to the décor in the airlines first class lounge in Frankfurt.
Each customer’s itinerary is organized by a dedicated event manager and a personal service team is available for support around the clock. Catering and in-flight entertainment are tailored to passenger preferences, and they also can use the airport lounges of Lufthansa and its partner carriers.
At the service’s launch five years ago Lufthansa expected that around 70 percent of its private jet passengers would fly from one of its hubs to an onward location and 30 percent from point-to-point without a long-haul airline connection. In fact, the ratio has now reversed with 70 percent of customers flying point-to-point in Europe.
Many of the direct point-to-point flights are now being made to destinations in Russia, Italy, France and Austria. Lufthansa expects further growth to come from Russia and the neighboring Commonwealth of Independent States, as well as parts of the Middle East.
Before the end of this month, Lufthansa (Booth No, 650) is due to take delivery of its first Airbus A380 double-deck airliner. It will use this as a springboard to announce a new first class service that it claims will be the most modern in the airline industry. Under a five-year plan begun in 2008, the airline is investing more than $200 million in new airport lounges in New York, Paris, Bombay, Hamburg, Munich and London Heathrow.