North entrepreneur reaches for the sky

Entreperneur Karl Watkin has launched what he describes as the world's first environmentally friendly executive jet chartering business.

Entreperneur Karl Watkin has launched what he describes as the world's first environmentally friendly executive jet chartering business.

The wealthy Tynesider, whose business interests span Chinese gold mines, global venture capitalism, skincream and a massive green diesel business, has set up Plane Chartering Ltd.

He and his two business partners have ploughed £2m into the company, which is currently based in Antibes in the south of France but shortly to be headquartered in Newcastle.

They plan to float the business in September to raise millions more to increase its current stock of six planes to 18 by this time next year.

The market for private jet hire for both executives and holidays is expanding by a third a year, but it is not only this realisation that spurred Mr Watkin to move into aviation.

"I spend most of my life travelling all over the world, for business and between my various homes," said the 50-year-old, who has a country estate in Northumberland and houses in London and the south of France.

"In the recent past, the stress and delays of travelling have increased to the point where it is almost impossible to guarantee international flight connections from the North-East and get your luggage, which now goes missing more often than it arrives.

"I recently arrived in Geneva to address the UN with no luggage and had to appear in front of the UN in jeans and a T-shirt.

"The current rail and plane companies have a monopoly. In effect, this is an unfair tax on North-East businesses. I bought my own jet last year and it transformed my life. I couldn't go on in business without it now."

The executive, who has recently become well known for environmental businesses such as D1 Oils, insists that Plane Chartering is different from other air travel firms which have been condemned for causing pollution.

"I don't see there is any conflict at all between running this and businesses like D1. We will be the only carbon neutral charter plane business in the world," he said.

He explained that the company would measure how much carbon it used every year and buy carbon credits, which are spent on environmental technology and work, to cancel it out.

And he was unmoved by the news that other firms are quickly moving into the market, such as Jefferson Private Jet Holidays, which has been running for three years from Newcastle Airport and this year said it saw demand soar.

"The more the merrier as far as I am concerned. We are testing the market and so far so good. But we will see what happens. I believe the market is big enough for a bit of competition," he said.

Plane Chartering, which will have planes at Newcastle, Durham Tees Valley and other airports across Europe, said it can be cost- effective for parties of people.

A six-seater jet from Newcastle to London would cost £3,350 return, which would mean £285 each way as well as offering more flexibility than scheduled flights.

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