NetJets considers RDU for expansion

Raleigh-Durham International Airport could be in contention for hundreds of new jobs.

NetJets, the nation's largest private-jet operator, is looking to expand, and RDU is among four places in the running, according to The Orlando (Fla.) Sentinel. The newspaper reported Friday and Tuesday, citing unidentified sources, that NetJets is considering Orlando; the Triangle; Fort Worth, Texas; and Columbus, Ohio, for growth.

The report touched off speculation about the scope of NetJets' plans, with some suggesting thousands of jobs could be at stake.

NetJets pioneered the idea of fractional ownership, letting people and businesses buy or lease part of an aircraft's available time. They get the benefits of private jet service but at a smaller cost.

The fast-growing business is owned by Berkshire Hathaway, the holding company of legendary investor Warren Buffett. And that pedigree, combined with the potential for new jobs, is attractive to corporate recruiters.

None of them, at least locally, would even hint at whether they're talking to NetJets.

"I've nothing to say," said John Brantley, director of RDU Airport. Other airport officials and representatives of the state Department of Commerce, Greater Raleigh Chamber of Commerce and local governments also declined to comment.

Maryann Aarseth, a spokeswoman for NetJets, could not be reached, but the company has confirmed it wants to expand.

NetJets is based in Woodbridge, N.J., but has a large facility in Columbus for maintenance and other operations. Among the speculation: NetJets could move that business and about 1,500 jobs.

Allen E. Price, president of the Teamsters Local 284 union, which represents 300 mechanics and other NetJets employees in Columbus, said he suspects the company won't really move.

"I think they're trying to put a little pressure on the city of Columbus" to extract tax breaks and other incentives, he said. Price has a meeting scheduled with company executives Tuesday to get more information. He said he expects that NetJets is looking to create new hubs.

North Carolina has shown recently that it's willing to bargain to attract aviation jobs. Last month, the state offered $3.9 million to Skybus Airlines to attract as many as 375 jobs to Piedmont Triad International Airport, near Greensboro. Local leaders offered additional concessions that could boost the total by millions more.

It's unclear where NetJets is in the expansion process. The Orlando Sentinel, though, reported that officials there expect a decision by Dec. 10.

(Staff writer Dudley Price contributed to this report.)