VistaJet CEO takes aim at U.S. before China push

Wed Sep 11, 2013 11:00am EDT
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By Rhys Jones

LONDON (Reuters) - Private jet operator VistaJet will take on its Warren Buffet-owned rival in the United States next year before turning attention to the Chinese market, the company's founder and chairman Thomas Flohr said.

"We're in talks about setting up in China and we're on track to get an airline operating certificate for China in the first quarter of 2014," Flohr, who founded Zurich-based VistaJet in 2004 and remains the privately-held firm's sole shareholder, told Reuters.

"China could be huge for us but I'm concentrating on getting the U.S. up and running properly first."

The company, which offers long-haul flights at hourly rates across Europe, the Middle East, Asia and West Africa, will launch its U.S. fleet of long-range Bombardier (BBDb.TO: Quote) business jets next March to be operated and managed by General Dynamics (GD.N: Quote) unit Jet Aviation.

However, VistaJet, which also has a major office in London, faces serious competition in the United States from market leader NetJets BRKNT.UL, owned by Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc (BRKa.N: Quote).

Travelers using NetJets are required to own stakes in the aircraft they use but VistaJet's Flohr believes his clients - top companies and individuals from Russian oligarchs to Chinese entrepreneurs - now prefer to pay by the hour, avoiding the investment risk.

"The financial crisis helped us. People had been buying private jets and seeing their value declining so we had people coming to us saying 'give us stability, a cost per hour and no asset risk', and they continue to do that today," the German-born Flohr said.

"For us the U.S. was the missing link. There are some 10,000 business jets in the U.S. compared to 8,000 in the rest of the world so the move will be transformational for us."   Continued...