First impressions I arrived at Le Bourget airport in Paris just after 1400 for my 1430 flight to London. Hunt & Palmer uses this airport frequently when flying from France, as it is the only dedicated business aviation airport in Paris. It is slightly closer to the centre of the city, at around 35 minutes away, than Paris CDG and is also the home of the French Museum of Air and Space, as well as the biennial Paris Air Show. We were using the Signature terminal at the airport, with facilities including wifi internet access, fax and printing facilities, meeting rooms, a café and satellite TV.
Hunt & Palmer charters planes of varying sizes, from Boeing 757s for large corporate trips and product launches, down to smaller jets such as the Hawker 800 and Citation II (also known as a CE-550), which I was travelling in. Later this year the company hopes to join the very light jet (VLJ) charter market, offering four-seater models like the Citation Mustang.
Boarding Our aircraft had flown in from London City airport earlier that day, and was already sitting on the tarmac when I arrived. My passport details had been pre-checked, so no identification was asked for, and the pilot advised us that the runway was free for an immediate take-off. We walked the 50 yards from the terminal building to the aircraft (transfer cars can be provided where necessary) and within minutes we had taxied and taken off – the whole process from arrival to being airborne took just under 20 minutes, making it ideal for business travellers on a tight schedule.
THE FLIGHT The Citation II is an eight-seater jet with a range of 2.5-3 hours, enough to fly from London to Rome or Malaga. A cold-catering galley is situated by the entrance, and there are two groups of four seats for in-flight meetings. This aircraft does not have all the mod cons – such as personal TV screens – which newer Citations such as the "X" model have as standard (see the London-Vitoria flight check, Business Traveller February 2007), but for such a short flight (under one hour) it is perfectly adequate. There are large fold-out tables for work purposes, and we were served a selection of cold platters and hot drinks, although these could be adapted to the needs of the passenger.
ARRIVAL We arrived at London Stansted airport around 55 minutes after take-off, and taxied to an area that had originally been the main terminal for the airport (before the Norman Foster building was conceived and the airport underwent massive expansion). Harrods' business aviation terminal is based here, as is the Inflite terminal, which we were using. Once again the whole process was very smooth, and in most cases passengers are able to simply disembark the plane and proceed straight through to the terminal without having their passports checked. On this occasion a random passport check was being made, so we were driven a short way to the checkpoint, and then back to the terminal where our cars were waiting for us – Hunt & Palmer part-owns a chauffeur service called Driven Worldwide, which it uses to transfer passengers to and from the airports.
CHARTERING A one-way trip from Le Bourget to Stansted in a Citation II costs approximately £4,100. This includes the cost of two pilots, plus catering, handling and repositioning charges. An overnight trip would cost approximately £5,750, including the cost of the crew's accommodation. Hunt & Palmer hopes that the introduction of VLJs into the charter market later this year will reduce prices, making the prospect of private jet charters appealing to a wider range of customers.
VERDICT A first-class operation from start to finish. The main advantage of chartering a private jet for the business traveller is undoubtedly the time saved at check-in and arrival, along with the convenience of being able to choose (within reason) departure times and airport destinations. First-time users might baulk at the seemingly high charter prices, but when you split this cost between the (in our aircraft's case) eight potential passengers, and factor in the extra time you can spend at your desk, the calculation becomes more affordable.
CONTACT huntpalmer.com;tel +44 (0)1293 558 000.