ONE of the world's largest operators of private jets is to expand its presence in Scotland after unveiling a steep rise in the number of flights to and from the country.
NetJets Europe said it would open a new "crew gateway" in Aberdeen, complementing its existing operation in Edinburgh.
The group, which was founded in 1996, has approval to operate out of 17 Scottish airports, including smaller sites such as Islay and Benbecula. However, the setting up of a second Scottish gateway means a number of staff will now be based in Aberdeen.
The news came as figures revealed that almost 2,000 flights were made in and out of Scottish airports by NetJets in the past year, up from around 1,400 in 2005.
Business growth, "international ambitions", rising levels of wealth and a healthy tourist market, were cited as some of the reasons underpinning the expansion.
NetJets claimed commercial travel options out of Scotland were "not always ideal", leading a growing number of business people to turn to the private jet market.
Chairman and chief executive Mark Booth said: "2006 has been a fantastic year for NetJets Europe, with over 62,000 flights undertaken on our fleet across Europe.
"This growth has been evident in Scotland, with nearly 2,000 flights being made in and out of Scottish airports in the last 12 months."
NetJets currently employs around 700 crew members based at 42 gateways across Europe. Its 114-strong fleet includes long-range aircraft capable of non-stop travel between Aberdeen and the west coast of America. The firm said it hoped that the new Aberdeen gateway would attract more Scottish pilots to work for it.
"Highly-trained" ex-military pilots from the areas surrounding the RAF stations of Lossiemouth, Kinloss and Leuchars are to be targeted as part of the recruitment drive.
Booth added: "The opening of the Aberdeen gateway signals not only our commitment to Scotland, but also our desire to grow our operations in the country and to attract the very best pilots to meet the ever-increasing demand from our customers."
• Air Partner, the corporate air charter broker, said this week it would tackle the impact of climate change through a partnership with the CarbonNeutral Company.
Air Partner will now offer its clients the opportunity to offset their carbon emissions when chartering a private jet.