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Fri 31 Oct 2008 06:43 AM

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NetJets eyes major Middle East expansion

$1.5bn of aircrafts on order as business jet operator looks to spread its wings.

Business jet operator NetJets, which has $1.5 billion of aircrafts on order for the Middle East, will benefit from any downturn in the private aviation industry, a company chief has said.

The company aims to strike as individuals abandon plans to buy their own aircraft, Vincent Santulli, the executive vice president and regional chairman of the company told Arabian Business.

NetJets, the largest operator of business jets in the world, is embarking on an aggressive expansion plan in the Middle East involving taking delivery of 60 planes, including 18 before the end of next year, added Santulli.

Boasting a fleet of 796 aircraft and operations in the US, Europe and the Middle East, NetJets’ fractional ownership scheme enables individuals and businesses to own part of an aircraft based on the flying hours they require each year, meaning they do not incur the cost of purchasing and maintaining a private jet.

It already has around 100 customers in the Middle East, with an operational base in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, and sales offices in Cairo, Dubai, Jeddah and Riyadh.

In addition to an international order of over 500 aircrafts worth a combined value of $13 billion, NetJets has an order of 20 Gulfstream G450s, 20 Falcon 2000 LX and 20 Hawker 750s for the Middle East market.

“We looked at the scale of what we’ve been able to accomplish in the US and Europe and think the demographics of wealth has shifted to this region and we think the number of airplanes we’ve ordered is in line we’ve what we’ve done elsewhere,” said Santulli.

“We have a unique programme where we use airplanes that are mathematically associated with the number of customers we have, that allow us to guarantee you get an airplane wherever you want, whenever you want. You can not get that anywhere else.”

He said the firm was attracting a growing number of customers from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait and Jordan.

Santulli said the US market had been hit by the economic downturn, with on average, an 8 to 10 percent reduction in the number of annual flights taken by customers compared to last year.

He said this was due to high fuel costs earlier in the year, as the firm had applied a clause in customers’ contracts passing on any increase in fuel costs to customers when they fly.

But he said he believed the firm may benefit from a slowdown in the private aviation industry, with individuals affected by the global financial turmoil opting for shared ownership schemes rather than purchasing a private aircraft.

“There is likely be a slowdown in the industry and what we saw in the recession in the 1990s was that people considering buying airplanes and still wanting to fly private started to see that fractional ownership was the economic way to go,” he said.

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