Lufthansa has placed orders for seven executive jets from Cessna, the US business aircraft maker, in its first step towards building its own fleet of exclusive corporate jets.
The German flag carrier is set to be the first European airline to develop its own fleet of business jets to augment the scheduled services offered to its most lucrative premium customers.
Thierry Antinori, executive vice-president marketing and sales in the Lufthansa passenger airline division, said the airline was aiming to have a fleet of nine corporate jets operating in the region of Europe and Russia within 12 months.
Private aviation has enjoyed an unprecedented global boom during the past three years, as corporate executives and wealthy individuals have sought to avoid the increasing inconvenience and delays of flying through congested hub airports and to use business jets to increase executive productivity.
Several other European airlines have considered entering the corporate jet market, including KLM, the Dutch subsidiary of Air France-KLM, which has recently investigated the fledgling market for air taxi jet operations with four-seat very light jets.
KLM has shelved the project, however, and to date only Lufthansa is pressing ahead with the development of its own fleet.
Cessna has a two- to three-year waiting list for most of its jets. To secure early deliveries Lufthansa has been forced to buy production slots from other Cessna customers in the secondary market.
The Lufthansa Private Jet service will offer a network of about 1,000 airports in Europe and will be available both for point-to-point services and to connect premium passengers to the group's long-haul network via its hubs at Frankfurt, Munich and Zurich. About 70 per cent of the demand is expected to be for ad hoc charter service for point-to-point flying avoiding the airline's main airports.
The private jet users connecting to long-haul flights will have access to the airline's exclusive first class terminals at the hub airports and will also be able to earn frequent flier miles.
Mr Antinori said Lufthansa was aiming to offer four different categories of light, mid-size and large business jets, ranging from four to 12 seats.
The fleet of seven jets from Cessna would comprise three four-seat Cessna Citation CJ1+ aircraft, two six-seat Citation CJ3s and two seven-seat Citation XLS jets.