Silverjet raises £25m for its higher-class venture

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The Independent Online

The latest airline to offer a business class-only service across the Atlantic said yesterday it could be in the air by the end of the year after raising £25m in a flotation on the London market.

Silverjet, which is the brainchild of a member of the Foyle's bookshop dynasty, aims to begin a twice-daily service from London Luton to Newark airport near New York within the next six to nine months.

The airline said its average return fare would be £999 compared with a typical business-class fare on British Airways or Virgin Atlantic of £3,100. Two rival business-class airlines, E.OS and Maxjet, have launched services from London Stansted to New York in recent months.

E.OS, which is run by David Spurlock, a former BA executive, charges a return fare of £2,600 and flies passengers in a 48-seat configuration in Boeing 757s.

Maxjet charges similar fares to those proposed by Silverjet, which will have a maximum seating capacity of 100 on its Boeing 767s.

Lawrence Hunt, the chief executive of Silverjet, who is a cousin of the current Foyle's boss, Christopher Foyle, said it would offer passengers "the same level of service as E.OS but at the same price as Maxjet".

The new airline hopes to appeal to small- and medium-sized businesses, upmarket leisure customers and corporate clients looking to save money. Mr Hunt said that with two million passengers a year flying between London and New York, it needed only a tiny share of the market to be financially viable.

If Silverjet's two aircraft flew full they would carry 50,000 passengers a year, Mr Hunt said, adding that it would be profitable if the planes were 65 per cent full.

E.OS has reserve aircraft, which can be brought into service if one plane cannot fly for some reason. In the event of mechanical problems, Silverjet would have to re-book passengers with other airlines and ferry them from Luton to either Gatwick or Heathrow.

Mr Hunt said that Silverjet planned to increase its fleet to 10 aircraft and start up another four routes, three of which would be outside North America.

At yesterday's listing, 75 per cent of the company was placed with institutional investors. The management has retained just less than 19 per cent of the shares.

Silverjet's chairman is Peter Owen, the former director of operations for BA. Its operations director is Peter Evans, who held the same role for 10 years at Virgin Atlantic while its finance director, John Bavister, spent 16 years with the travel operator Thomas Cook.

Mr Hunt has been involved in six start-up businesses since 1984 ranging from technology to travel.