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Last Updated: Sunday, 20 November 2005, 18:59 GMT
Booming market for luxury jets
By Daniel Dickinson
BBC News reporter at the Dubai air show

Boeing Business Jet
The Boeing Business Jet makes its mark at the Dubai Air Show
It costs $10,000 (5,820) an hour to hire, you can sleep in a double bed as you cruise at 30,000 thousand feet and if necessary the plane can be converted into a flying hospital in just 90 minutes.

This is the world of business aviation, the VIP-configured airline, a service for royalty, presidents, the super-rich and the super well-connected.

And, according to industry insiders meeting at the Dubai Air Show in the United Arab Emirates, it is a niche in the aviation business that is booming.

A tour of the Boeing Business Jet on show in Dubai, one of the most exclusive of corporate aircraft available today makes you wish that economy class had never been invented.

The BBJ, as it is affectionately known, is luxury in the sky.

Made to measure

Although it is the size of a Boeing 737, it carries just 36 passengers, two of whom who could spend the journey horizontal in that double bed.

It is not unusual for the internal fittings to cost $20m
Sean O'Hara, chief pilot

It has a kitchen that would not look out of place in an exclusive apartment and the seats are so far apart it is next to impossible to reach out with your foot and touch the seat in front of you.

BBJs, of course do not come cheap. The basic model costs around $44m and then it has to be kitted out.

Sean O'Hara is the Chief Pilot of Jet Air, an Abu Dhabi-based executive business charter company, which has four BBJs.

'Nothing special'

His aircraft might seem the ultimate in luxury to passengers who normally travel on scheduled services and who gaze longingly at business class as they shuffle to the back of the aircraft they are travelling on, but apparently it is nothing special.

Double bed
BBJ's have a lot to offer on the comfort front

"The inside of this aircraft is kitted out in a conservative way. It cost just a few million dollars," says Mr O'Hara.

"Companies that order these planes can have absolutely anything they want installed. Marble fittings, gold inlayed mahogany tables. It is not unusual for the internal fittings to cost $20m."

Despite the cost, the number of luxury corporate jets is on the increase, across the world but particularly in the Middle East.

Although there are only 250 registered business jets, fewer than in Europe, the number is expected to reach three hundred by the end of the year and to increase at a rate of 20% annually from 2006.

Orders take off

Already a number of orders for executive jets have been placed at the Dubai Air Show by regional companies totalling over $300m.

Corporate travel has been a success after 9/11. You know your crew. You know your pilots
Mike Berry, ExecuJet

Mike Berry the managing director of Dubai-based ExecuJet, says interest in business air travel is being driven by security concerns: "Corporate travel has been a success after 9/11. You know your crew. You know your pilots."

The emergence of executive air travel has come as a big bonus to the Dubai Air Show, allowing it to service a niche market and perhaps offer more than its larger and longer established air show cousins in Farnborough in the United Kingdom and Paris, France.

Growth region

Virginia Kern, the chairman of the Dubai Air Show says it is a market which has huge potential.

"The Middle East region is booming, especially the aviation sector," she says.

Virginia Kern
Virginia Kern is chairman of the Dubai Air Show

"Many of the region's commercial airlines are growing and the business sector is enjoying explosive growth on the back of this. We aim to make this show the world focal point for business aviation."

Business aviation will by its very nature remain exclusive. The closest most air travellers will come to corporate super-jets like the BBJ is seeing it taxi on a runway or reading about them in glossy aspirational magazines.

They can, however, be happy that in at least one way they are equal to executive jet passengers. Despite the comfy bed, there is no lying down at take-off and landing.

Whoever you are and however wealthy you may be, you still have to sit in a seat just like the passengers in economy class.

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