In a recent meeting of shareholders, Berkshire-Hathaway executives reported that NetJets has returned to profitability after big losses in 2009. The company reports that NetJets had a pretax profit of $ 57 million (US) in the first quarter of this year which is compared to a $ 96 million (US) loss last year.
Warren Buffett attributes the turn around to putting David Sokol in charge. David Sokol also runs the company’s energy – utility business, MidAmerican, and is a candidate to take over Berkshire Hathaway’s operating businesses as a successor to Buffett.
We have posted a couple articles on NetJets over the past few months regarding the viability of their business model built on fractional jet operations. NetJets is a key leader in our industry and how they fare will make a big difference in the future of private jet travel.
The key will be if the company can sustain profitability over the long haul. If they can, then it proves they have a working business model. One quarter of profit or even one year of profit does not make a business. You can cut overhead and get most any business profitable if there is some present sustainable revenue stream, but can you grow it in the new economy? Will more people line up to buy fractions of business jets as they did in the last 15 years?
A lot of new business jet orders were canceled in the downturn of the economy. Will NetJets start ordering new aircraft again? Will they operate under a similar business model as they have in the past or will they have to come up with a new way of structuring their fractional business to make it work in the future?
It costs a lot of money to own and operate a business jet and there are fewer companies today than there were two years ago who are willing to spend the money, whether it is a whole aircraft or a fraction. NetJets may get new business from companies who overreacted by shutting down their flight departments last year; but, that will be limited.
Unless business jet travel innovates to the point where the occupied seat cost is brought down significantly, the NetJets client will remain the high end business user and elite traveler. That market is small in comparison to the rest of the travel market.
So where does the new client for flying on a business jet come from?