Chartering executive jets is like sprouting wings, says Philip Beresford.
When the American heavy-metal band Cinderella cancelled a European tour at the outbreak of the Gulf war, it hired a 220-seater Boeing 757 and flew to Philadelphia on a Sunday morning with just 32 people on board. It was the ultimate indulgence in the jet charter market and cost some £50,000.
For Graham Pasquill, chief executive of Business Air, a leading air chartering and brokerage group, Cinderella's move was a lucrative source of revenue, leading him to the wry observation: "Maybe I should start a special service for wimp pop groups."
Certainly the Gulf war led to an upsurge in interest for that very private and exclusive mode of transport: the chartered plane and helicopter. Pasquill reports that the level of enquiries that he had received was up 300% after the war started. While many American and British executives stopped travelling altogether, fearing a terrorist incident sparked off by the war, those who simply had to travel found a chartered jet the most secure mode of transport.
"They are flying in a safer and controlled environment, with colleagues they know, from a discreet airfield and at their time and convenience," Pasquill claims in extolling the virtues of the executive jet in these troubled times.
Even with peace restored, an executive jet can make sound commercial sense for a company. When, say, up to eight executives have to travel from Gatwick to Paris a privately hired plane may cost them around £1,250 return while the total cost of their scheduled flight would be near £2,000.
But then what price for all the hassle and time wasting of the executive who has to catch a tube or taxi to Heathrow, fight through airport security, wait for airport congestion to clear and then have the same problems at the other end in reverse. American studies indicate that a senior executive's time to his company is worth five times his salary, and even for middle managers the figure is three times. Congestion in these circumstances can be hugely expensive.
When boarding a normal commercial flight the executive may not actually end up near his intended destination. Only 100 of the 1,000 airports in Europe can take commercial airliners. But the vast majority of the rest (which in peacetime also includes military airfields) are open to executive jets.
The convenience factor also extends as far as boarding the plane. No fear of having to arrive up to an hour or more before flights. At Oxford's Kidlington Airport, one of the major bases for executive jets and helicopters in the country, local operator and owner CSE Aviation reckons to be able to have its clients in the air within five minutes of arriving at the aircraft.
CSE also offers a helicopter charter service, which is useful for executives who want to do any business within a two-hour flight time of the take-off point. Here the cheapest option is a single Bell JetRanger, which for £450 an hour can carry a pilot and four passengers. At the top end of the market a Sikorsky S72 will burn a £1,000-an-hour hole in your pocket, though it does carry up to a dozen passengers.
But for hopping round the country on factory or shop visits, the helicopter cannot really be beaten. "The uniformed pilot almost becomes part of the company team and acts as an ambassador for them. The client often becomes so attached to one pilot that he takes them on virtually every trip," says Michael Hampton, CSE's manager of aircraft sales.