BRUSSELS, Belgium_Business flights are the fastest-growing segment of European air traffic, increasing by 22 percent in the 2001-2005 period - or more than double the rise in all other types of flights, according to a new report.
New ways of doing business, the emergence of planes that are cheaper to buy and fly as well as delays and transfers in scheduled services point to continued growth in business flights, says the report of Eurocontrol, the European air navigation safety organization.
It takes a look at an air traffic segment that has escaped much study, probably because only 9 percent of European business flights are longer than 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) and nearly half are under 500 kilometers (300 miles).
The report, released Wednesday, says the future looks good for travel by private or corporate aircraft.
It estimates that by 2015, Europe's fleet of business aircraft will total 3,000 planes, up from about 2,000 today.
"This means around 1,100 extra flights each day in Europe by 2015, which will add between 0.4 percent per year to predicted growth in flights," or double that if there is a "strong growth" in a new generation of light aircraft that are cheap to buy and fly.
Europe will see the first deliveries of so-called "very light jets" in 2006, "but the size of this new market under European conditions remains open to question," says Eurocontrol.
The new two-engine jets typically weigh under 10,000 pounds, or 4.5 metric tons, need little takeoff and landing space and can carry up to eight people on flights of up to 2,000 kilometers (1,200 miles) - the distance between Berlin and Istanbul.
What may hamper their success are "European operating conditions" that differ drastically from those in the U.S., says the report.
In Europe, it says, airfields tend to be less equipped for business aircraft, commercial flights require two pilots and there is uncertainty over environmental norms and fuel costs - "although business aviation seems likely to be less sensitive to (the latter two) than the lower-end of air travel," says the Eurocontrol report.
Eurocontrol says in 2005, 6.9 percent of the 9.2 million flights in Europe were business aviation. Flights by business jets rose 8.9 percent over 2004, those of turboprop aircraft by 2.4 percent.
The report sees a bright future, stating, "Taxi-ing to the runway today is a new breed of aircraft."
"New technology now allows the manufacture of less expensive, lighter jets with lower cost of operation," it adds. "Since there are nearly 10 times as many people in Europe with wealth of US$5 (million) to US$30 million, compared to those with more than US$30 million, it is clear that halving the cost of jet ownership far more than doubles the potential for private ownership."
Whereas mass air traffic has embraced the hub system requiring passengers to transfer, business travel is "point-to-point" air travel, often between smaller airports, which saves time and money.
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