The business of business class

Silverjet founder and CEO Lawrence Hunt tells SHALU CHANDRAN that the region needs an all-business-class airline

AS the brain behind Silverjet, why did you think the industry needs an all-business class airline?
Two reasons. The first is the price.

Travellers don’t feel that they get the value for their money and one survey in the UK said only 15 per cent of people thought they were getting value for money from business costs. Fares typically are between $5,000 and $7,000; the reason they are so high is because on a typical aircraft you have 300 to 350 economy seats and some 50 or 60 business-class seats. The airlines have to subsidize services, and so they have to charge extra in business class. But if you take the economy seats out, you don’t have to hike prices. We can offer a much lower fare as well as hassle-free travel.
People don’t want to spend hours in an airport any more. The average distance from your car park to the aircraft in Heathrow is 1.1 miles. So we have created something that is very different in terms of the service – we provide chauffeurs, valet parking as well as helicopter transfers. You need to be at the terminal only thirty minutes before departure. To be operating to Dubai is superb, but to be landing at the Executive Terminal of Dubai International Airport is truly ‘sivilised’. Silverjet also has its own private terminal at London Luton Airport – commonly referred to as the private jet capital of the UK and the least congested airport in London.

What kind of response have you had?
The books are very good. We have got flights already full from Dubai to London for Christmas. 

Are these primarily business travellers or do you see a lot of leisure travellers?
It’s a mix. Our product is designed for both. The leisure traveller typically travels on a weekend and the business traveller generally travels at the beginning or end of the week. So to make money in the airline business you want to pull your plane Saturday through to Friday. Our focus really is to attract both the leisure and business passengers. We want to offer our customers the luxury and convenience of a private jet without the need to own one and to create an experience that takes all the stress out of flying.

In order to maintain quality you have to obviously keep a control over the quantity of passengers on board. So do you see in future reducing the number of seats?
No, because then the prices might increase. Fewer seats will not reduce the costs. So when you fly Dubai to London, the costs are the same for one passenger or hundred. The landing charges, the handling charges, the maintenance as well as high fuel prices. So if you have only one seat you will have to charge about $150,000 to make money. So we think a hundred is about all right because we want to keep the price – what we want to deliver is the best value for the business class experience.

Any plans to open more routes into this region?
We have some interests from investors in Dubai about creating a hub here enabling us to open routes to Hong Kong, New York, Singapore or New Delhi. So we are in discussions.

What other special features do you offer?
This is more to luxury than socks, eyeshades, toothpaste and bathrooms with lotions and pastes. So this is a basic kit for use in the flight. Our key features are the Executive Terminal check-n; taking not more than 30 minutes prior to departure; our customers being able to avoid queues and enjoy personalized concierge services on arrival at the airport, followed by a luxurious in-flight experience that takes them to their destination in comfort and style.
The aircraft has 100 seats in a 2x2x2 configuration which will convert into flat beds, as well as privacy screens and a specially designed ladies-only toilet.  Passengers can also enjoy services like restaurant-quality meals, freshly prepared halal food, a Qibla service, a ‘sleeper service’ during night flights, and entertainment options including a personal digital in flight system with noise reduction headsets to enable passengers to fully relax.

London is a big market for this region especially in the summer. Do you expect rates to follow demand?
Our average fare will be around Dh8,500 ($2,318) including tax. If you are
travelling during peak season, fares might go up to Dh14,000 including chauffeur