Fear of the deadly virus Ebola and instability around the world push demand for charter flights ‘off the charts’

Fear of Ebola and global instability have helped boost interest in corporate jet travel.

While the risk of contracting the deadly virus is low, a private jet operator in the United States says the number of calls for international charter flights had been "off the charts" during the past week.

In New Zealand, a company that provides services for private jets from around the world said there had been a steady run of usual customers to this region but there were signs that health and security concerns had boosted interest overseas.

"I understand in Europe and the United States people have decided to take charter flights - those numbers are up," said Air Center One chief executive Rob Leach.

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"I think the perception is that people might find it a bit safer in a private jet than being in a queue with everyone else.

"I think the other thing is that people are sick of the security checks they've got to get through.

"There's a paranoia in the US that has got to epidemic levels but at least [on a charter flight] you know who is on the plane with you."

Airstream Jets has offices in Australia, Canada and the United States and Francesca Termini, a charter co-ordinator, said the increased interest in its service was from customers who had never chartered aircraft before as a result of recent events such as the Ebola incident in Lagos and geopolitical instability in other regions.

Leach said a charter flight on a Gulfstream jet cost about US$10,000 ($11,740) an hour and could carry up to 14 passengers.

At the weekend Emirates became the first scheduled carrier to suspend flights in West Africa, cutting flights to Guinea in a bid to prevent the further spread of Ebola. It said safety of passengers and crew would not be compromised.

The International Air Transport Association (IATA) said it was working closely with the World Health Organisation (WHO) and the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) with respect to potential implications for air connectivity.

Late last week WHO said the risk of a tourist or business visitor becoming infected with Ebola virus during a visit to the affected areas and developing the disease after returning was extremely low, even if the visit included travel to the local areas from which primary cases have been reported.

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Transmission required direct contact with blood, secretions, organs or other body fluids of infected living or dead persons or animals, all unlikely exposures for the average traveller, the organisation said.

IATA said the air transport industry had dealt with several outbreaks of communicable diseases recently. The global response to communicable diseases is governed by the WHO's international health regulations.

It said: "IATA will continue to monitor developments closely in the Ebola outbreak in close co-ordination with the WHO and ICAO."

Corporate market takes off as customers return

Before the worsening Ebola outbreak and concerns about civilian aircraft being downed by rockets, the private jet market was recovering from its global financial crisis trough.

General Dynamics, maker of Gulfstream jets, said corporate customers were back and wealth creation was bringing out shoppers for private jets. The president of jet engine maker Pratt & Whitney said deliveries for private planes were growing after hitting a low in 2011.

Improvements in the top part of the business - jets costing US$26 million ($30.5 million) or more - had driven the market's recovery, he said. Total business jet deliveries were valued at US$20.9 billion last year, compared with a peak of US$24.7 billion in 2008.
- AP