Jet Aviation, which began business in Switzerland in 1967, is celebrating half a century in business. Now owned by General Dynamics, its history goes back further than 50 years to a decision by young Carl Hirschmann in 1940 to leave Paris for the U.S. ahead of the German blitzkrieg.

In New York, Hirschmann opened two successful delicatessens and ventured into the world of aviation, learning to fly and later acquiring a P-51 Mustang. He returned to Switzerland in the early 1950s and bought a twin-engine Aero Commander. His love affair with the business of flight bloomed in earnest. By the mid-1950s, Hirschmann had more than 30 businesses, from the Mount Kenya Safari Club to a cocoa plantation in Malaysia. The idea for Jet Aviation was laid when three well-known U.S. Air Force generals — Olbert Lassiter, Curtis LeMay and Paul Tibbets — decided to take their charter operation.​​

Executive Jet Aviation, international with a base in Geneva. The three consulted Hirschmann regarding hangar space and he remembered two hangars that had been vacated by a defunct airline. Arrangements were made for use of the hangars, but not long after the charter base was moved to Basel, Switzerland. By that time Hirschmann was providing Executive Jet with maintenance services. He realized in short order that while business and private aviation was fast going global, maintenance had not kept pace.

So in 1967, Hirschmann launched Jet Aviation as a maintenance center to keep up with the growing demand. As demand continued, Jet Aviation grew. It added aircraft management and charter for European and Middle East customers; the first maintenance base outside Switzerland, in Dusseldorf, Germany; and a partnership with a group of Saudi businessmen to operate an FBO in the Saudi capital of Jeddah. In 1977 in Basel, the company added cabin outfitting, and the center is now one of the world’s largest independent VIP aircraft completion and refurbishment centers. In the 1980s, the business expanded in Europe and the Middle East, and perhaps most importantly, Jet Aviation successfully entered the U.S. market, becoming the first global player in the business aviation industry.

Since then, the company has added FBOs in Boston/Bedford, Palm Beach, Florida, and Teterboro, New Jersey. And with the growth of the Asian market, it opened a maintenance and FBO facility in Singapore in 1995. And by the turn of the decade, an aircraft management and charter operation had been created in Hong Kong.

With growth came expansion from a different direction. In October 2005, Jet Aviation was acquired by Permira Funds, marking the end of 38 years of Hirschmann family entrepreneurship. Jet Aviation underwent another transformation in 2008 with its acquisition by U.S.-based General Dynamics, parent company of Gulfstream Aerospace. Hirschmann died in 2010.

Jet Aviation continues to expand. In October it celebrated the groundbreaking for its new wide-body VIP aircraft hangar in Basel; expanded its presence in the Middle East with the opening of an FBO in Dubai; and marked the addition of six more business jets to its managed fleet in the Middle East, which now totals 22 aircraft, including three Boeing Business Jets. Today, Jet Aviation employs 4,500 people in more than 30 countries and provides maintenance, completions and refurbishment, engineering, FBO and fuel services, as well as aircraft management, charter and staffing. Its European and U.S. aircraft management and charter divisions jointly manage a fleet of more than 300 aircraft.