Page last updated at 22:22 GMT, Wednesday, 24 September 2008 23:22 UK

New airline aiming to soar

By Will Smale
Business reporter, BBC News

Jet Republic promotional image
Jet Republic says the demand for private planes remains high

To think of launching a new airline in the current economic climate seems more than a little pie in the sky.

With carriers going into administration seemingly every month, it appears only the brave or foolhardy would choose to enter the marketplace.

However, against the airline-breaking backdrop of high fuel prices and falling passenger numbers, a new carrier has launched with grand ambitions.

With a $1.5bn (807m) order placed for 110 new Learjets, Jet Republic aims to become one of Europe's largest private plane providers.

Backed by Austrian bank Euram and a consortium of private investors, Jet Republic intends to attract Europe's super-wealthy travellers away from its more established private jet competitors.

Yet, with the global banking sector in a rather high profile malaise, and as wider recession fears continue, aren't captains of industry cutting back on their travel budgets?

And does this leave enough pop stars, members of royal families, and Russian oligarchs to go round all the private jet firms that already number 300 in Europe alone?

'Not Easyjet'

Jet Republic's UK-born chief executive Jonathan Breeze is more than confident.

Senior bosses who are shedding staff are not going to want to be seen still spoiling themselves with private jets
Jamie Bowden, Travel industry expert

"I have been told that this isn't the time when you'd want to launch an airline - or an estate agency," says the former RAF pilot.

"But we aren't going to be a standard scheduled airline, we are a private jet company whose customers will be high net worth individuals and entrepreneurs, and their numbers are growing.

"That is our customer base, it isn't people who fly on Easyjet or Ryanair."

When pressed on whether the crisis in the global financial sector will knock Jet Republic's passenger projections, Mr Breeze says some of its projected customers are so wealthy they are "immune" to any economic woes.

Jet Republic chief executive Jonathan Breeze
Jonathan Breeze says Jet Republic has done its homework

Others, he says, will choose to downgrade from their current full ownership of a private plane to take up Jet Republic's offer of a part share, or the ability to simply hire a plane for a certain time period.

"As a result of the changes in the global credit markets, we are potentially looking at more customers not less," he says.

When pressed on the fact that all three of the business class only airlines launched in the UK in recent years quickly went into administration - Silverjet, Eos and Maxjet - Mr Breeze counters that Jet Republic is completely different.

"They were all scheduled airlines that flew point-to-point between London and New York," he says.

"We by contrast provide private planes - we fly people to and from exactly where they want to go, and at what time."

Mr Breeze is equally ebullient about Jet Republic's ability to weather the high aviation fuel prices that played a key role in the failures of both XL Airways and Zoom Airlines earlier this month.

"When we made the decision to push ahead three months ago, oil was at a record $140 a barrel, and it has since fallen back substantially from there," he says.

While Mr Breeze won't disclose just how much money has been invested in Jet Republic, it intends to employ more than 1,000 people when up and running.

'Bold move'

But while Jet Republic is confident it will prove successful, some aviation analysts are sceptical.

Zoom Airlines jet
Zoom is just one of a number of airlines to fail this year

"Let's just say it is a bold move," says travel industry commentator Jamie Bowden.

"Due to the turmoil in the financial sector, there is likely to be a sharp curtailment of business travel in the banking industry over the coming months.

"What this is likely to mean is that senior bosses who are shedding staff are not going to want to be seen still spoiling themselves with private jets.

"Instead we are likely to see them downgrade to the scheduled airlines.

"Add the fact that the private jet marketplace is already fairly mature in Europe, and yes, I have to say it [Jet Republic's launch] is a bold move."

Demand remains

Yet while Mr Bowden is yet to be convinced, fellow aviation analyst Laurie Price, director of Aviation Strategy at Mott MacDonald, says Jet Republic could be very successful.

"It is like one of the famous mantras of US investment guru Warren Buffett - 'when everyone else is being cautious, be brave'," he says.

"Even if the global economy is falling back slightly, that means the great majority of it is still ticking over. And business travel does still seem to be growing."

In that context, Mr Price says there will always be a number of wealthy people who want to fly private "to avoid the queues and other hassles at the main airports".

"And if you have say eight senior managers all planning to fly business class on a scheduled service, they may actually find it cheaper if they instead share a private plane," he says.

"Then you can fly at a time of your own choosing, and typically to a smaller airport much nearer to where you want to go.

"Add all the Russian and Arab billionaires out there, and you can see that the market for private planes is always going to be in demand."

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