By Rob Corder
Vistajet founder Thomas Flohr believes his private jet business model can thrive in an age of austerity.
Cash-strapped businessmen still need to travel the world to meetings. Vistajet founder and chairman Thomas Flohr believes he has the business model to suit them in the air, and down to the ground.
The global financial crisis is finding a floor, leading to greater confidence among the Middle East's leading executives.
It is that confidence that one of the region's fastest-growing business jet businesses, VistaJet, hopes to tap into as it exhibits at the Dubai Air Show this week.
The company's chairman and founder, Thomas Flohr, says that high net worth individuals have been given a reality check during the downturn, and are now looking for innovative solutions for all their business needs, including private air travel.
Owning a business jet outright, or a share of a plane via a fractional ownership scheme, has left some executives with huge overheads associated with a rapidly depreciating asset during the past 18 months, a situation that Flohr believes will drive people towards his more flexible approach.
"The global financial crisis has highlighted the significant capital commitment and asset risks associated with full or fractional ownership and now, for the first time in more than 25 years, there is an alternative. VistaJet's business model delivers to the client the unique combination of a luxury brand, a customised solution, and pricing transparency," he explains.
The VistaJet solution is simple. The company operates a fleet of aircraft, ranging from tactical aircraft like the Learjet 40XR and the Learjet 60XR which can fly from three to five hours, through to the Challenger 604/5, an inter-regional aircraft flying up to eight hours with six to nine passengers.
At the top end, there are the Challenger 850s and Global Express XRS, which can fly from between six and 11 hours seating up to 14 passengers, and sleeping (fully reclined) up to six passengers.
Rather than buying a part share in a single aircraft, customers buy a number of hours flying time - typically 100 hours per year - and when they need to fly they can select the most appropriate plane from the fleet for their journey.
The company also offers an on-demand service for single flight bookings made by customers that are not part of a Vistajet programme.
All Vistajet planes are fitted out to the same luxury standards with identical branding, so the customer experience will be the same whether people are flying a short hop from Bahrain to Riyadh, or a long haul flight from the Middle East to Western Europe.
Vistajet have two aircraft in Dubai for the Air Show, the Challenger 850 will be parked at the company's exhibition stand, and a Learjet 60 XR will be nearby to show to potential customers.
The Middle East is a key market for Vistajet, according to Flohr. "At present, somewhere between two and four of our jets will be flying passengers in the region every day. We have seen significant growth in passenger and flights numbers over the past 12 months and we expect that number to grow. We expect that by 2012, around a third of our revenues will come from the Middle East," he suggests. "Customers are coming to us because we offer a proposition that no-one else can match, which combines the highest standard of luxury in the skies with guaranteed availability and a service which puts the client first," Flohr concludes.