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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 August 2006, 16:03 GMT 17:03 UK
Security alert buoys private jets
Private jet leaving Biggin Hill airport
Biggin Hill has benefited from being 20 miles from Gatwick
Flight delays and cancellations at London's airports in recent days have sent demand for executive jets and other private charter aircraft soaring.

Private jet operators and airports which cater to the business market saw bookings double in the days after Thursday's security alert.

Security for private jet flights is equally stringent, but less crowded airports make for a quicker getaway.

The private jet market has been growing steadily in recent years.

Dealing with risk

Many US executives regard it as a cost-effective way of criss-crossing the country and the concept had been catching on in Europe, even before tighter security measures caused chaos at Heathrow and other airports.

London Biggin Hill saw a 150% increase in private jet flights on Thursday, with 100 departures compared to its normal 40.

Businessmen are travelling to tight timescales and cannot risk having delays
Robert Walters, London Biggin Hill airport

Customers included directors of multinational firms, investment banks and several stag parties, with destinations including North America, Sweden and Israel.

"We saw a real mixture of customers, both leisure and business," said Robert Walters, the airport's business development manager.

"People had to charter aircraft because they couldn't fulfil their itineraries at the main London hubs.

"Businessmen are travelling to tight timescales and cannot risk having delays occurring, which have occurred in recent times."

Private jet operators have seen a huge increase in enquiries in the past few days, with demand from business and leisure customers up 50% at British firm Air Partner and up 25% at Skyjet International, owned by Canadian firm Bombardier.

"We have seen an increase in bookings and it has been mainly businessmen," said Paul Baker, charter sales manager at International Air Charter, which services more than 50 UK airports.

"If British Airways cancels a lot of shorthaul flights, then businessmen with deals pending have to look elsewhere."

Jet costs

The cost of hiring a private jet, typically about 3,000 ($6,000) per hour, has up to now been seen as prohibitive for all but the wealthiest tycoons and largest companies.

But with costs coming down and more innovative packages being offered, the industry hopes to attract more first-time customers.

"Slowly but surely - more by necessity than choice - people are looking for alternative modes of transport, and charter air travel is one of those ways," Mr Walters said.




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