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Silverjet sales beat forecasts; airline starts flying

Silverjet Plc, a trans-Atlantic business class-only airline whose inaugural flight departed from London today, said ticket sales have exceeded the company's forecast.

„We're well ahead of expectations,” CEO Lawrence Hunt said in an interview today. Silverjet, which was founded in 2004, is hoping to break even within 18 to 20 months, he said. Silverjet joins other business-class airlines including MAXjet Airways and Eos Airlines in challenging network carriers such as British Airways Plc on trans-Atlantic routes. The carrier has started with a single route between London's Luton airport and Newark Liberty International Airport near New York. „The opportunity is to offer a much better service at a much lower price,” Hunt said. The average price of a Silverjet ticket is £999 ($1,970) compared with £3,000 on a network carrier, he said. The company raised £25.3 million in an oversubscribed initial public offering in May. Silverjet has „no plans” to sell more stock, Hunt said. Shares of Silverjet rose as much as 3 pence, or 2%, to 157 pence as of 8:16 a.m. in London.

Silverjet has one Boeing Co. 767-200 airliner, with two more scheduled to start service in July and October. The plane provides 100 seats that can be converted to flat beds. A 767-200 usually has as many as 300 seats. The company is examining 30 possible routes to destinations in India, South Africa and China, Hunt said. It plans to own or lease 10 aircraft by 2009 and operate nine routes from London. Silverjet passengers can expect 30-minute check-in times at the company's private terminal. „Customers don't want to be treated like a piece of meat and they're fed up with paying £3,000 to subsidize economy passengers,” Hunt said. The airline also claims to be the world's first „carbon neutral” carrier. A portion of each ticket sale goes to the CarbonNeutral Company Ltd., which runs environmental projects to offset carbon emissions. Silverjet also plans to start a personal „carbon points” program for passengers, Hunt said. Frequent fliers will be able to collect points and then designate environmental projects to offset them. The program may be offered across a group of companies including other airlines, Marks & Spencer Group Plc and HSBC Holdings Plc, Hunt said. (Bloomberg)