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'Making flying fun again'

By Primrose Skelton


The original premium-class airline was Concorde which operated for 27 years from 1976 to 2003. The 100 passenger aircraft offered little space – seats were the size of today’s economy class – but what it lacked in comfort on the inside it made up for with its service and speed, with flights from London to New York in just three and a half hours, making it the most expensive commercial airline ever.


In 2002 Lufthansa started an all-business-class flight from Dusseldorf to New York. Three years later Eos Airlines launched services between New York JFK and London Stansted and US-based MAXjet started flights also from New York to London.


Following in their footsteps French airline L’Avion began offering flights from Paris to New York this year alongside Silverjet, which launched its London to New York route in January 2007.


Peter Owen (pictured above) is the non-executive chairman of Silverjet – a new business-class-only airline that recently launched its Dubai to London route. With 21 years of experience in the industry he knows what customers want when they travel and how to make it happen. Emirates Business took a very comfortable business class seat with him onboard Silverjet’s signature Boeing 767.


Why was there a need for Silverjet when there is already a host of airlines offering business-class travel to the United Kingdom’s capital?


Flying has become a nightmare for many people. Once seen as a luxury and hassle-free way to travel, it is now often seen as nothing more than a stress people could do without. We wanted to put the fun back into flying and take the stress out of what has become a necessity. We looked at the market and found there are people who want to travel business class but cannot afford the huge fares, so we created something that is cheaper than the competitors but with just as good a service. The concept of a private-jet-style experience has been a great success since launching the London to New York route this January.


What is your firm’s concept?


The idea is that passengers have a first class service at affordable prices. We are not a budget airline, but we are the lowest of all our competitors when it comes to business class. We have a private terminal at London Luton and have been granted access to Dubai’s executive terminal. This means passengers can avoid lengthy queues and check-in time is just 30 minutes prior to departure.


How can you afford to charge Dh7,499 for a return from Dubai to London when other airlines cost almost double?


Our overheads are a lot less than other companies. We don’t have a huge public relations department, we don’t have huge numbers of aircraft and we don’t operate short haul. With two million passengers flying between London and New York every year, we need only a tiny share of the market to be financially viable.


Do you have ambitions to be a player alongside the big guns in Dubai and if so how are you going to go about doing this?


Of course we have ambition, but we will do it in a modular way rather than go full steam ahead in the first year. We want to be important in Dubai and the Middle East and have partners here. In a very competitive industry we had to find a niche market and I believe we have done that. Emirates and Etihad are years old and have established themselves in the market. We will get there but it will take time and there is no rush.


Airline food is notoriously bland. Have you changed this?


We have employed top London restaurant Le Caprice to produce our meals. All meals are served restaurant-style on china crockery with glasses and metal cutlery, we don’t use those fiddly little trays covered in plastic.


Would you ever fly economy?


Yes and I do. I don’t see why not, when it’s a short-haul flight and there is a good service available passengers should take it. Even if you have the money I don’t think it’s always necessary to take the most expensive flight. Last summer my family and I headed to Nice in the south of France from Britain. There were husbands, wives, children, partners and rather than paying £4,000 (Dh28,000) to fly BA we paid £300 (Dh2,100) to fly Easyjet.


Who is your ideal passenger?


I don’t have an ideal, but we do want to appeal to a wide range of people who travel both for business and leisure.


Did any celebrities fly with you?


We brought the England rugby players over for the Sevens and Joan Collins flew with us to attend the opening of the Embassy club in Abu Dhabi.