Lionel Laurent, 06.17.09, 01:20 PM EDT
Warren Buffett's fractional-ownership jet company has boosted its sales team on the Old Continent.
But Marine Eugene, who heads up NetJets' French operations, says that now is a good time for the company--which is owned by billionaire Warren Buffett--to take more market share in Europe. She won't divulge what share the company currently has, nor what state of health the division is in, but claims that NetJets earlier this year almost doubled its sales and marketing capacity in Europe in anticipation of expansion.
"Now is the right time for us to attack," says Eugene. She thinks that NetJets' business model, which allows customers to buy an equity stake and flying hours rather than the whole jet, is more suited to the current economic and political climate than a private jet festooned with a company logo.
The numbers don't tally with her bullishness just yet. According to Warren Buffett's holding company, Berkshire Hathaway ( BRKA - news - people ), NetJets had a pretty miserable first quarter. The subsidiary reported an 80% decline in aircraft sales, as well as lower flight revenue hours, and its fractional ownership business lost $96 million before tax compared with $45 million in pre-tax profit during the first quarter of 2008.
Eugene would not say how the European division had performed, but said that the client base had remained broadly stable at around 1,600. NetJets Europe has not canceled any plane orders yet, choosing to delay deliveries instead; this year it plans to take "around 10," but it would not specify how many orders would be delayed.
So how is Europe behaving in this time of cost-cutting and humility for the former Masters of the Universe in the financial sector? Eugene says that Britain has suffered the most, an obvious result of London's dependence on financial services, while France has resisted well. Eugene says she has around 150 French clients, but won't divulge any of the names.
As for a recovery in the corporate jet market, Buffett may have to wait a while longer. Eugene thinks it won't come before 2012, so perhaps at the 2013 Paris Air Show there'll be something to celebrate.Related Links
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