Kiwis lead the jet set

By Jane Phare

A wealthy New Zealand businessman topped the list of Lufthansa's biggest private jet spenders last year.

The businessman, who spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on more than 30 private jet flights, is part of a growing number of rich, successful New Zealanders who don't want to queue in crowded airport terminals to fly short destinations.

New Zealanders are now ranked the biggest users of the German airline's private jet service from the Asia-Pacific region, an area that includes India, China, Japan and Australia, making the German company's head office take notice of what was thought to be an insignificant market. Wealthy Kiwis travelling to Europe for the America's Cup and World Cup Rugby helped to boost business.

In Europe and the Russian Federation, they are the fifth-biggest customers, holding their own with countries like Germany, France, Italy and the United States.

Anton Musin, Lufthansa's sales and marketing manager based in Auckland, says Kiwi affability and informality have been an enormous advantage as he has built up the New Zealand client base.

The "who's who" of wealthy, successful people in New Zealand is small enough to make networking, once there's a foot in the door, reasonably straight forward.

In Europe, he says, he would be unlikely to be at the same party as potential clients, or spot them at a restaurant or cafe.

Tap someone on the shoulder and offer a business card in Auckland and it will be accepted with good grace. Try that in Europe and the reception might not be so friendly.

And once well-heeled Kiwis have tried the private jet travel option, and liked the product, they open their contact books and offer another half dozen names of potential users.

But Kiwi affability aside, his clients are no less demanding. Musin knows he needs to be available on his mobile 24/7 for booking flights, sometimes with less than a day's notice. That will include preferences for catering and champagne on the flight, and limousine transfer.

Lufthansa targeted the private jet niche market two years ago, initially operating the service in partnership with American company NetJets, using its fleet of 200 aircraft.

The service has been so successful that Lufthansa this year invested in its own fleet of luxury aircraft, seating between six and 12 passengers.

Prices vary depending on the aircraft size and the distance travelled, divided into four zones covering more than 1000 destinations.

A flight in the seven-seater jet between London and Dublin is $11,446 one way; between London and Cannes is $20,000. The same trip in a 12-seater jet costs $40,000.

Auckland socialite Gilda Kirkpatrick and her husband James used the jet service last year when they went to Europe for the America's Cup in Valencia and the Millennium Yacht Race in Palma, Majorca.

"It's definitely the way to travel," she said. "It's easier and quicker. You can share with two or three couples."

Avoiding crowds and queues at airports was an advantage, she said, and you arrived quickly at a European destination rather than taking most of the day and feeling exhausted.

A growing list of New Zealanders own their own jets, or use private jets to get around.

They include newspaper magnate Barry Colman, who owns a Cessna 501 Citation jet; New Zealand's richest man Graeme Hart; movie director Peter Jackson; and businessmen Trevor Farmer and Craig Heatley.

- Herald on Sunday

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