What do business travellers, Beyonce and Spain's Real Madrid soccer football soccer team have in common?
According to British Airways, they're all behind a resurgence at the very top end of the market including premium passenger flights and VIP jets.
BA's OpenSkies division, based in Paris, caters to the 'luxury travel' market – although that doesn't mean gold-plated taps in the bathroom. It's just a step up, albeit a pretty big one, from being one passenger among hundreds in a conventional commercial aircraft.
OpenSkies has a fleet of just four planes – all narrow-body Boeing 757s – outfitted from tip to tail with a mere 84 business class seats and flat beds.
The premium-only config and limited seating helps position the 757 for 'block booking' of an entire flight. The charter market accounts for 10 percent of sales, according to Open Skies, with clients including singer Beyonce Knowles, soccer teams Real Madrid and AC Milan, and a trade delegation from the French government which travelled to China.
OpenSkies CEO Dale Moss says the carrier holds a 29 percent share of the Paris-New York premium-travel market and fills 80 percent of seats on that route, with a load factor in the "high 50s to mid 60s" on its Paris-Washington service. A third route has been touted for 2011 with candidates including Boston, Montreal and Dubai.
Moss believes that OpenSkies could boost its four-plane fleet to 20 aircraft in the coming years, although this would likely mean buying different aircraft as the Boeing 757 ceased production in 2004 (Boeing's preferred replacements for the 757 are the 787 and the 737 Next Generation)
"I don’t want to scare any competition when I say 15 or 20 aircraft, but if we got that it would be great," Moss said. "The market will snap back to its former state at some point, though it has yet to do that, so we’re not in a hurry." Moss believes the high-end travel market will likely return to "normalised" levels from 2012 onwards.
About David Flynn
David Flynn is the editor of Australian Business Traveller and a bit of a travel tragic with a weakness for good coffee, shopping and lychee martinis.