Managing Asia

Managing Asia

This is giving Buffett's NetJets a run for its money

The private jet business that's shooting for the skies
The private jet business that's shooting for the skies
Key Points

Despite being a relatively new player in the U.S., high-end private aviation operator VistaJet believes it's putting up a good fight in a market that includes Warren Buffett-owned NetJets.

Founded in 2004 and previously focused on Europe and emerging markets, VistaJet teamed up with Jet Aviation to launch its U.S. fleet in 2013. While the entry into America could have been earlier, the company's founder told CNBC that it's shaping up to be a competitor not to be belittled by market leaders offering fractional ownership programs like NetJets. Fractional fleets require travelers to own stakes in the aircraft they use.

"The U.S. has a very strong factional market [but] I think people have learnt their lessons over the years. By buying a fraction of an aircraft, you only know the true cost per hour when you sell your share because you won't know what the depreciation is, which is usually a lot higher than expected," founder and chairman Thomas Flohr said in an interview on "Managing Asia."

Read MoreLow oil a boom for private jet business?

Zurich-based VistaJet offers flights at hourly rates from 9,000 euros ($9,679) to 13,500 euros ($14,519) - a concept unheard of in an industry dominated by fractional or per flight basis chartered business models.

"With us, it is a simple hourly rate. We own all the airplanes so [customers] don't have the asset risk," Switzerland-born Flohr said.

Another distinctive quality of VistaJet is its provision of long-haul flights across Europe, the Middle East, Asia and West Africa. "The fractional guys are very focused on America, with 85 percent or sometimes 100 percent of their fleets in the U.S. But, the world today is global and you need to have a global product to satisfy customers' needs," Flohr told CNBC. "So absolutely, we are stealing market share from the fractional players in the U.S."

At the moment, VistaJet has a capacity level of 90-95 people in the U.S., with nearly one-third being return customers, filling three of its long-range Bombardier business jets until the end of this year.

Thomas Flohr, founder and chairman of VistaJet Holding.
Chris Ratcliffe | Bloomberg via Getty Images

Also helping the private flying operator is a reset in the image of the U.S. luxury aviation industry. The business jets business took a downturn after auto executives took them to Washington to ask for bailout money at the height of 2009's financial crisis, but Flohr says the impact is fading.

"The question corporations need to ask is whether they want to invest in a $55-60 million airplane, put it on their balance sheet and leave it there to occasionally fly their executives. That is where we come in," he said. "It is significantly less expensive to take a solution from VistaJet [...because] we offer a service where you don't need to have any capital invested. Your capital should be in your business."

This is also why VistaJet is insulated from the marked slowdown in Russia.

Read MoreThe private jet business soars in Silicon Valley

Stung by a dramatic fall in oil prices and Western sanctions imposed over the annexation of Crimea and Moscow's ongoing support for separatists in eastern Ukraine, Russia's economy expanded 0.6 percent last year, less than half of the 1.3 percent in 2013, and marking its slowest pace of growth since 2009. However in 2014, VistaJet posted its best ever performance in the Russian market.

"Some people have concerns about doing business in Russia. During a downturn, people shy away from buying aircrafts, but they still need to fly [and] run their business and that drives them to us." the Switzerland-born businessman said.

Solely owned by Flohr, VistaJet does not issue detailed profit figures. The privately-held firm, which has flown 150,000 passengers on 70,000 flights since its launch, saw a 30 percent growth in topline last year, on top of a 30 percent rise in 2013 revenue, the chairman told CNBC.

— Reporting by Christine Tan | Written by See Kit Tang