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Fly Concorde class, minus the speed

Le Bourget, France, June 17 (Reuters): Already missing the Concorde' A speedy replacement may soon be coming to an airport near you.

Aircraft manufacturers say several leading airlines are looking at introducing trans-Atlantic corporate jet services which, though slower than the supersonic Concorde, would still slash waiting times for rushed business travellers.

Smaller companies like NetJets, a unit of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway, are also pursuing passengers who used the sleek jet. They are targeting smaller private airports outside big cities such as London and New York.

“The retiring of the Concorde has opened up a new market,” said Noel Forgeard, chief executive of Toulouse-based jet maker Airbus in a briefing at the Paris Air Show.

French airline Air France retired its fleet of Concordes at the end of last month. British Airways, the only other carrier that flew them, will ground its Concorde fleet at the end of October.

NetJets Europe announced at the Paris Air Show this week that it would start a new trans-Atlantic service near the end of this year under the slogan: “You flew Concorde — now it’s time for an upgrade.”

The company runs a fractional ownership business that allows companies or individuals to buy part of a plane, giving them the right to fly for a set number of hours per year.

It plans to fly 13 to 15-seat jets made by Gulfstream, a unit of General Dynamics, between small private airports such as RAF Northolt outside London and Teterboro in New Jersey.

“We think that if our clients can fill half the cabin, the flight will be more cost effective, per passenger, than the Concorde was,” said NetJets executive Charles McLean.

Air France and British Airways announced in April that they would stop their Concorde flights, pointing to the onerous operating costs of the fuel-guzzling jets and the dwindling number of customers willing to pay sky-high prices for tickets.

The average ticket price for a London to New York flight on Concorde is about $6,980. For that money, passengers hurtled across the Atlantic at twice the speed of sound, arriving in just over three hours.

Business jets such as Gulfstreams, much larger corporate jets made by Airbus and Boeing or Falcons from France's Dassault Aviation take twice as long to make the crossing.

But companies like NetJets and major airlines believe they can lure former supersonic passengers with the promise of shorter waits at airports.

Until now, the main alternative for a Concorde passenger has been a first or business class seat on the plane of a major airline.

Premium passengers may be rushed through lines faster than economy flyers, but they still have to arrive hours before their flights and end up sitting around in VIP lounges, sipping drinks before boarding.

Passengers travelling on a smaller business jet can arrive shortly before departure, board rapidly and worry less about security threats.

“A growing number of companies thinks there are too many delays, that too much time is wasted in airports,” said Forgeard. “There is interest among major airlines in launching a service that is tailored to the business market.”

The use of corporate jets by leading airlines is not unheard of.

German flag carrier Lufthansa provides trans-Atlantic business flights between Munich and Duesseldorf in Germany and Newark, New Jersey and Chicago in the US, using the aircraft and crew of Geneva-based PrivatAir.

Privatair uses much larger planes than NetJets plans to operate — mainly 48 seat Boeing Business Jets.

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