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Timeshare jets are still fueling up

By Nick Easen for CNN

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More and more executives are now able to fly on private jets.

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(CNN) -- Bosses once knew they had made it to the top of the corporate ladder when they stepped out of a chauffer-driven limousine. These days it is an executive jet.

This new symbol of business success is again on the rise, as buying time on private jets becomes easier.

Smaller corporations are now able to buy a small number of flying hours on corporate jets -- fueling the industry.

"Our growth will continue for five to 10 years at least," Richard Santulli, chairman of NetJet, the world's largest fractional jet ownership company, told CNN.

Normally corporate users have to buy 50 or 100 hours of flying time out of the 800 hours that a corporate jet normally flies in a year.

But in October, Delta Airlines' corporate jet unit -- AirElite -- began offering "jet cards," which give only 25 hours of flying time on their jets.

Therefore smaller businesses can get in on the act, since they only buy the jet hours they need rather than purchasing large blocks of time.

In 2004, Cessna Aircraft and TAG Aviation plan to launch the CitationShares program, which will offer similar deals to AirElite.

Recent orders for Gulfstream jets from Saudi Arabia, and NetJets' plan to open a new hangar at Westchester Airport, New York, are also testament to the growth in this market.

In two years, New York-based Marquis Jet has sold more than 1,000 of its own $150,000 jet cards, according to the Chicago Tribune newspaper.

Marquis actually buys large blocks of time from NetJets, a timeshare jet company and a unit of Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway. It then resells smaller time units to its clients.

Advocates say private jets are looking even more attractive for time poor executives, due to greater air traffic, long waits and exhaustive security searches for major hub-to-hub travel.

Timeshare jets typically land at smaller, private airports such as RAF Northolt outside London and Teterboro in New Jersey, thus avoiding the traffic congestion associated with large hubs such as JFK airport or Heathrow.

"I don't believe the commercial airline business is going to get any better from a quality point of view," says Santulli.

"Commercial carriers are never going to compete with us, it will be a lot cheaper, but it is not as efficient."

To entice executives, timeshare jet companies have decked their planes out with flight and satellite telephones, fax machines and data points for laptops.

Timeshare jets also allow greater flexibility for high-end corporate travel programs.

Instead of having one or two planes to ferry around a small number of top executives on fixed routes, bosses can now jump on a fractionally owned jet on a flight of their choosing.

-- CNN's Meara Erdozain contributed to this report

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