Private jet travel, shunned in the recession as a sign of ostentation, is recovering in a further sign that the world’s richest people are spending more freely again.

The number of business flights – which includes celebrity, state and business hire – grew 5.5 per cent last year, in both European and US airspace, according to figures from Eurocontrol, the air traffic management co-ordinator, and Argos International, an aviation market research company.

While private take-offs have not yet returned to 2007 levels, a 9 per cent surge in Europe so far this year – compared with January in 2010 – suggests luxury flying is coming back into ­fashion.

Trips on private jets took off in the pre-crunch years, as executives and self-made millionaires were swayed by flexible schedules, lack of baggage and security restrictions, and departure lounges uncluttered by economy-class travellers.

But the industry was hammered in the recession by the economic downturn and public criticism of private jet travel, particularly over incidents such as flights by car industry executives to Washington for hearings on industry bail-outs.

Flight numbers in Europe fell 16 per cent from a high of 779,000 in 2007 to just 652,000 in 2009.

While private flights are taking off again, the centre of gravity has shifted east.

A quarter of all the increase in business flights in Europe – or 10 per cent of all jet travel – was to Russia, Ukraine or Turkey last year, though the most popular airports remain Le Bourget in Paris, Geneva, Nice, London Luton and Milan Linate.

Flights provided by Netjets Europe, one of the biggest private aircraft operators, to the World Economic Forum at Davos were up 16 per cent on last year, as business and political leaders traded austerity for comfort, the company said.

But if corporate exuberance is back; it is back with a difference.

The trend is away from owning the whole of the aircraft, but towards fractional ownership – a so-called timeshare arrangement for planes.

Flights cost about €4,000 ($5,475) an hour for a short-haul trip, or €10,000 an hour long haul, according to Netjets, with 25 hours of flying time costing €145,000.

There was also a shift in the type of jets, with high-end, 19-seater jets the most popular in 2010.

However, smaller six-seater aircraft also increased in demand, as a new breed of super light aircraft including the Cessna Citation Mustang and the Embraer Phenom 100 soared in popularity.

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