Air France started its business jet connection service for first-class passengers in July last year and now plans to expand it in several directions, according to the project manager. In addition to the Cessna Citation Mustangs operated by executive charter specialist Wijet, the company will offer larger business aircraft. The company is also considering offering service beyond Europe and extending it to business-class passengers.
The service is available for long-haul connections to and from Paris CDG Airport, Air France’s main hub. Ranking first in final destinations is Switzerland, with cities such as Geneva, Sion, Lugano and Zurich. Next is the French Riviera, from Marseille to Nice. The average duration of a connecting flight is 1.5 hours.
Standard pricing is €4,000 ($4,500) per flight hour. Positioning flights are free of charge. The price of a flight hour can be cut to €2,400 ($2,700) for a round trip over a two-day period. Up to four passengers may travel together in a Mustang, at no additional cost.
“Our partnership with Wijet has kept its promises,” Antoine Hottelart, manager for Air France’s business aviation project, told AIN.
Delivering on the agreement has not been without its challenges. The service promises passengers a connection time as short as 45 minutes, and successfully transferring luggage from a very light business jet to a long-haul airliner in that time was not a given. However, straightforward parking and easy-to-obtain departure and arrival slots for Wijet aircraft have facilitated the process, Hottelart said. He also emphasized Wijet’s flexibility when special requirements arise. At Paris CDG, the Air France employees charged with running the service are the 150 people working at the Salon La Première (first-class lounge).
Hottelart claims every passenger has been satisfied with the connecting flight–even the one whose plans were disrupted by weather, since Air France compensated him. “Fifty percent of the passengers on this new service are choosing Air France instead of the competition because we are offering a business jet connection at CDG,” Hottelart asserted. Approximately half of La Première passengers have already used business aviation; among those using the Air France-Wijet connections, this proportion is close to 80 percent.
The partnership goes far in intertwining scheduled and business aviation. If the connection schedule allows the passenger to spend some time in Paris, he or she may choose Le Bourget Airport, Wijet’s base.
Hottelart and his team regularly receive requests for larger-cabin jets, most often from North American and sometimes Chinese passengers, and thus far has found ways to accommodate these requests case-by-case. By September, a formal process will be in place for a swifter response. “We are selecting some operators of larger jets,” Hottelart said. Wijet, which operates only Mustangs, will subcharter the flights so that the passenger will see only Wijet’s brand.
In addition, Hottelart is considering offering the service to business-class passengers. The company already does this when no first class is available, such as on the Paris-Saint Martin route. Expanding into other regions is in the cards, too, and “preliminary discussions” are under way with potential local partners in the U.S. and China.
Air France connections have accounted for one or two flights per week so far, a Wijet executive told AIN. “Air France salespeople are not well trained to sell this product yet,” the executive said. Wijet would like to be operating one flight per day for Air France passengers by the end of the year, and Air France in turn has mounted a new sales effort directed at passengers flying from outside Europe.