Silverjet was a UK-based, all-business-class airline that operated from 2007 until its failure in mid-2008. It operated just two routes but ultimately could not capture the public’s imagination in the face of stiff competition from legacy carriers. Let’s take a closer look at this short-lived VIP venture.
A brief history
History has witnessed several airlines attempt to crack the long-haul, all-business-class operations model with minimal success. One such carrier was Silverjet. The UK-based carrier survived for just over a year before succumbing to substantial financial losses in May 2008, proving the point that this business model is almost impossible to execute successfully.
Silverjet (IATA code Y7, ICAO code SLR, callsign ‘ENVOY’) was started by a group of UK-based aviation entrepreneurs in 2006. Silverjet initially offered 30 million ordinary shares via the Alternative Investment Market at London’s Stock Exchange, raising £33.6 million (US$43.7 million) in startup capital. Upon issue, 18.7% of Silverjet’s issued share capital was owned by the Silverjet directors, with the balance being held by investors.
Having successfully raised adequate startup capital on the London Stock Exchange in May of 2006, the airline secured two former Britannia Airways/Thomsonfly (now TUI UK) Boeing 767-200 aircraft to commence operations. The airline’s business plan was to operate these aircraft from London Luton Airport (LTN), located 30 miles to the north of the capital city, to New York’s Newark Liberty International Airport (EWR), New Jersey, on a twice-daily service.
According to the statement issued at the launch of its share offering, Silverjet aimed to become the ‘world leader in exclusively business class long-haul air travel’. The airline also stated its intention to operate a fleet of 10 aircraft within three years of inaugurating services.
Being a business class only airline, Silverjet had a different target market to the traditional carriers plying the London to New York route, targeting:
- Executives from small and medium-sized enterprises;
- Upmarket leisure travelers: and
- Larger enterprises that wanted to offer management employees an alternative business class option.
Later in 2006, to expedite obtaining its Air Operators Certificate (AOC), Silverjet took over the small, UK-based charter airline, Flyjet. This acquisition allowed Silverjet to accelerate the commencement of scheduled services by adopting the smaller carrier’s AOC, operating license, and route licenses.
Alongside the requisite regulatory approvals, Silverjet also acquired Flyjet’s fleet of two Boeing 757-200s and a further 767-200, the latter originally a LanChile airframe. Although trading as ‘Silverjet’, the company’s name was FlyJet Limited, so it could continue to use that carrier’s certification.
The airline’s inaugural flight took off from London Luton on 25th January 2007, heading to Newark. The aircraft operating the service wore an all-over pale grey color scheme with silver-colored titles and tail motifs. The lead-in fare on Silverjet flights was just £999 (US$1,318), significantly cheaper than standard business class fares on the legacy airlines flying between London and New York at the time.
A second daily service between the two cities began in September 2007, followed by services between Luton and Dubai in November 2007, becoming the first business-class only airline to operate flights on this route.
All flights operated from Silverjet’s dedicated terminal at its London Luton base, a relatively unusual phenomenon for an airline outside of the United States. This facility was one of just two private terminals located at the airport at the time. Silverjet heavily marketed its exclusive private terminal to potential passengers to lure them away from the much busier London airports of Heathrow and Gatwick.
The carrier also offered complimentary chauffeur-driven limousine transfers to passengers who booked flexible fare tickets. Late check-in was made possible by using the private terminal, with a minimum time of just 30 minutes before departure time if passengers had only hand luggage.
Silverjet also had a private check-in area at Newark Airport located within the Arrivals concourse and separated from other airlines’ check-in desks. The airline used the executive terminal at Dubai International Airport for arrivals and departures.
Silverjet’s all-business-class Boeing 767 aircraft included 100 6’3″ flatbeds (made by Sicma Aeroseat) arranged in a 2-2-2 cabin configuration. Another innovation unique at the time was a ladies-only toilet (one of five in total onboard). Inflight meals could be pre-ordered, with halal meals offered on flights between London and Dubai.
On night flights, Silverjet promoted its cabin as a ‘quiet zone’ to further attract business travelers. This created a peaceful overnight experience for passengers, with no in-seat trolley service, minimal cabin crew announcements, and the removal of overhead reading lights and call bells. Each seat has an entertainment center loaded with TV programs, music, and movies, and the seat also has a seatback massager and a laptop charging point facility.
The first carbon-neutral airline?
Silverjet claimed to be the world’s first carbon-neutral airline when it began operations in 2007. From the launch of ticket sales, all fares included a mandatory carbon offset contribution to be reinvested in environmentally-friendly schemes worldwide.
The mandatory contribution element was dropped in October 2007 after the UK Government doubled Air Passenger Duty (a form of tax added to airfares for flights departing the UK). The airline’s passengers were subsequently asked whether they would accept the recommended carbon offset element at the time of booking.
Silverjet operated three Boeing 767-200s on their scheduled services. The airline paid Thomsonfly US$28.2 million for the first two aircraft it acquired. These aircraft were subsequently sold to Novus Aviation Capital and leased back, providing Silverjet with the necessary capital to refurbish the aircraft and equip them with their 100-seat all-business-class interiors.
The airline also utilized the former Flyjet 767-200 on its services, which was repainted and refurbished to bring it in line with its sisterships. The two former Flyjet Boeing 757s continued to be used on inclusive-tour charter flights under the Flyjet brand but were later disposed of.
The airline was due to acquire a pair of 767-200ER aircraft from Thomsonfly in 2008, although these plans were put on hold due to the airline’s financial issues. The airline had planned to use these two further aircraft to serve new destinations such as Johannesburg, Delhi, Mauritius, Shanghai, and Los Angeles.
According to Planespotters.net, the Silverjet fleet at the time of the airline’s closure comprised as follows –
- G-SILC – Boeing 767-200 named ‘Silver Lining’
- G-SLVR – Boeing 767-200 named ‘Silver Cloud’
- G-SJET – Boeing 767-200
The average fleet age for the 767-200s was 19.5 years when the airline closed.
Silverjet’s startup and initial costs were substantial. Along with running a small exclusive fleet, its own passenger terminal, and struggling to compete with the higher frequencies offered by the legacy carriers on its routes, the airline soon ran into financial difficulties.
In May 2008, as losses mounted up, Silverjet announced that it had secured an US$8.4 million loan facility from Viceroy Holdings, an investment company based in the Middle East. However, the airline could not draw down the US$5 million that was urgently needed to continue to operate.
Trading of Silverjet’s shares was subsequently suspended as a result. On May 29th, 2008, Silverjet announced that it was grounding its flights. On May 30th, 2008, a statement from Silverjet’s Chief Executive declared that Silverjet would cease operations and suspend all flights with immediate effect, having failed to secure an emergency bridging loan. The airline’s last operating flight, SLR254, arrived back at London Luton Airport from Dubai on the afternoon of May 30th, 2008.
On June 10th, 2008, Silverjet announced that Ireland-based Kingplace had agreed to purchase Silverjet. However, that deal fell through, and on June 13th, 2008, Silverjet went into liquidation and made its entire workforce of 420 staff redundant.
Silverjet and its service offering didn’t go unnoticed during its short existence. It was awarded several leading airline industry awards, including –
- Most Environmentally Aware Airline 2007 (UK Institute of Transport Management)
- Best Airline Website 2007 (Travolution)
- Design and Innovation Award for Aviation 2007 (Conde Naste Traveller)
- Best Business Class Only Airline 2007 (Conde Naste Traveller)
- Best Airline 2007 (Sunday Times Travel Magazine)
- Best Executive Transport 2007 (Esquire Magazine)
Is all-business-class, scheduled long-haul viable?
History has seen several scheduled airlines attempt the all-business-class, long-haul model, but only a few have managed to make it financially viable. Airlines such as EOS, Maxjet, and indeed Silverjet have all fallen by the wayside over the years.
Even British Airways’ sole attempt at the market (excluding Concorde), flying Airbus A318s between London City and New York, ultimately became financially unviable, and the service was eventually closed down.
The French airline La Compagnie is a rare example of an operator that has managed to succeed where so many others have failed. While other carriers offer all-business-class charter flights, La Compagnie has been flying scheduled services since 2013 and, with its new fleet of just two Airbus A321LRs, continues to thrive in this niche market.
La Compagnie has succeeded in a market where so many others have failed. Photo: Airbus
Do you remember Silverjet, or perhaps you even flew on one of their all-business-class services? If so, tell us more in the comments.
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