New Delhi: A global financial meltdown may hardly be the time to launch a fractional aircraft ownership company, but Mark Baier, chief executive of private jet services firm Business Jets India Pvt Ltd, which operates under the Bjets brand, says businessmen may now need to take more trips to keep client confidence intact. With more than 50 business jets valued at $1 billion on orders over the next five years, Bjets, owned by Singapore’s Birley Group and Tata group’s Indian Hotels Co. Ltd, allows customers to block flying hours for trips anywhere in India and South-East Asia.

Officially launching the service in India on Tuesday, Baier explains how the Bjets offering is different from others in the market. Edited excerpts:

Flight plan: Chief executive Baier says the company plans to have 21 aircraft by the end of 2009. Ramesh Pathania / Mint

I can’t speak (about) what mistakes any other operators in the market have made. I can only say that there is no other operator that has made the kind of commitment that we have. You have to have the fleet and the commitment first and then the customers follow.

The market is there. We have done an analysis of the market well in advance of coming into the market. We interviewed and spoke to prospects directly and there was an overwhelming need of this kind of service.

Who are your customers?

Basically, it is corporations. We have one or two high networth individuals. We have multinational corporations that have flown with us. We have companies that have done very well in the property market over the last couple of years. We have companies that have been in the family for three-four generations. We have people that have made money over the last five years. It’s a little bit of everything, which is not unusual.

We are assuming that about two-thirds of our fleet will be based in India (and) we have 21 aircraft by the end of 2009… I assume it will be our larger market. We are just looking for under 100 customers for next year: two-thirds, one-third split between India and South-East Asia.

Have these companies signed up for short hours or long term such as 400 hours annually? And which regions are customers flying?

We had some people commit fairly large volumes—300-400 hours—and then we have had people with just 25 hours. So, both. There has been no pattern. We have gone to Vietnam, all over India (small destinations, large destinations), Indonesia, Hong Kong, just about everywhere in the region. Frankly, it’s surprised us, I expected principal city pairs at first but people are really using it to go to hard-to-get places.

There are 200 business jets in India today and an equal number on order in the next few years. When so many are buying planes, why will they come to you?

In earlier iterations, you will see that (our) aircraft management (programme) was not as amplified…now, we are really emphasizing it. Actually, it’s been surprising how many people said, “Look, I bought the thing (aircraft) but I really don’t know how to run the product."