Lufthansa Private Jet is the most recent casualty of airlines trying to enter the world of private aviation. The division was shuttered in April after 15 years of starts and stops. For the last decade, it had been using NetJets to fulfill the private flights it sold. At one point, it operated a fleet of light and midsize jets. The original vision was to connect its premium customers arriving at its Frankfurt and Munich hubs to secondary cities in Europe. However, the airline said 70% of customers were flying point-to-point.
Why did Lufthansa end its private jet service? “Economically, the segment was too small. It was a niche for Lufthansa,” says a spokesperson.
However, the German flag carrier is hardly alone when it comes to airlines that have tried to enter the private jet segment and then stepped away.
In 2019 Delta Air Lines agreed to sell Delta Private Jets to Wheels Up, taking a stake in the private jet provider. It marked two decades by the Atlanta-based airline trying to make a go of it in the world of private aviation, a business it inherited when it bought regional feeder Comair.
Before throwing in the towel, the Atlanta-based carrier sought to gain scale via a 2010 acquisition of Segrave Aviation.
Unlike Lufthansa, DPJ, as it was known, focused on providing stand-alone private aviation services, including managing jets for owners, and selling on-demand charter and jet cards. In 2019, DPJ was the fourth-largest charter operator in North America.
It also built links with the airline. For example, customers connecting between the two were shuttled to and from the different terminals in Porsche autos. It also allowed members of its SkyMiles frequent flyer program to redeem miles for private flights.
Still, Delta Chief Executive Officer Ed Bastian said DPJ was just too small to get the attention it needed. Prior to the pandemic, Delta generated $47 billion in annual revenues, while the private jet unit was thought to have around $200 million in sales.
JetBlue has also played footsie with private aviation. Along with Qatar Airways, it invested in JSX and JetSuite, although the latter grounded its fleet and filed for bankruptcy as private flights ground to a halt during the early stages of the pandemic.
While there was never much synergy with the private jet charter side – JetSuite – frequent flyers could earn points with JSX, which sells seats on scheduled flights it operates from private terminals and has been expanding. JSX recently announced members of United Airlines MileagePlus can earn miles on its flights.
Air France had a partnership with Wijet, which survived until the European very light jet operator went into liquidation in early 2020. Like Lufthansa Private Jet, it was meant to offer connections with the mainline airline. At the time of Wijet’s demise, a spokesperson for Air France said there hadn’t been much activity.
British Airways had a short-lived partnership with Textron’s Citation Air and announced, but never launched, a partnership to offer private jet connections in London.
United Airlines in 2001 announced Avolar, which it positioned as a significant player in the business aviation segment. After the 9-11 terrorist attacks led to layoffs at the main airline, management canned the start-up before its first flight in a concession to its unions.
Still, some airlines have found successful models for providing private jet flights. Several airlines in the Middle East and Asia continue to operate private jets. Qatar Airways’ Qatar Executive unit is now the largest operator in the world of the ultra-long-haul Gulfstream G650ER.