While the mainstream media may group private aircraft all together, the fact is there are “huge” differences as Boeing 757 operator and Republican Presidential candidate Donald J. Trump might say. Jet Advisors, a company that advises private jet purchasers lists over 80 choices of jet spread across eight categories.
Starting from Small Compact Light Jets, sometimes referred to as VLJs, or Very Light Jets, informal classifications range up to what in industry lingo are called Bizliners, essentially the types of planes you might find being flown commercially by regional airlines and even Boeing 737s, 757s and Airbus A320 types. Of course, these ones don’t have hundreds of seats, but instead feature private bedrooms, showers, board tables, media rooms and plenty of legroom to spread out in leather lounge chairs.
The largest “private jets” are planes originally built for commercial aviation use, but either converted or built for private customers. Donald J. Trump owns a Boeing 757. Similar jets are available on the charter market, some featuring private bedrooms, showers, board tables and elaborate cabins. Charter costs generally start at $15,000 per hour and can range much higher. (Photo by Matthew Busch/Getty Images)
While it may seem like being in a candy store, even for the relatively small commitment of a single charter flight, getting the right jet can impact your experience. You need to consider how many people will be on your flight, and also how much luggage. Also, are you carrying specialty luggage such as golf clubs, skis and bikes. In addition to size, there is weight.
The more people and more luggage you load on, the shorter the range. While that may not mean much if you are making a short hop, it will eliminate certain aircraft types if you want to fly nonstop. Of course, a fuel stop while flying privately often means only about 20 minutes.
Prices vary tremendously today in private aviation, and in fact one broker, Jet Smarter, offers “free” empty-leg positioning flights to its members who pay a $3,000 initiation and $9,000 annual charge. Yes, that’s right, free. Of course, it means flying only where and when there is an open plane and there are strings.
But, supposing you are in a specific place and you want to get to a specific place at specific time, there is still a big variation beyond the gimmicks and promos that seem to proliferate charter marketing these days. Outside of jets, turbo-props like the King Air, which have a similar cabin to small jets, can range from around $3,000 an hour (“It is the most comfortable solution for short-haul flights and is significantly more economical than other comparable jets,” says Kenny Dichter, CEO of WheelsUp, which uses the type as the backbone of its fleet.) to chartering your own 737-like Boeing Business Jet at $15,000 per hour or more. Again, costs will vary based on if this is a one-way or what the industry considers a roundtrip, which generally means returning within 24 hours. If you are chartering one-way, your price may be higher because you are also paying for that jet to return to its base. Jet card programs often waive roundtrip fees, but that’s an entirely different story. The point is flying privately for a roundtrip of two hours each way can easily vary from $15,000 to over $60,000.
The Phenom 100 jet manufactured by Embraer Commercial Aviation represents jets that seat four to six passengers and are popular for flights under two hours. (Photo by Yuli Seperi/Getty Images)
If you are a novice in the charter market I recommend asking a friend who is a regular private jet user, preferably an owner for advice. After that, there are a slew of private jet charter apps and websites that are fun to play with, many with great pictures of the jets, and detailed information on size, range, seating capacity, luggage capacity and estimated pricing. Keep in mind, the bigger the jet, the bigger the cabin, and on smaller jets you will be bending down a bit, particularly if you are tall. Also, toilet facilities on smaller planes can be quite confined, and some planes it means nothing more than a pull around curtain. While over 80 percent of private jet flights are under two hours, it’s something you may want to consider.
The best advice is to find a good charter broker. Like a financial planner, travel agent, insurance broker, yacht broker or real estate agent, having somebody you develop a rapport with and who you can build trust with is probably your best asset. Ask friends who charter for recommendations. Many folks who charter regularly have gone through several brokers and providers before finding one they stuck with. At the same time, in defense of “Do It Yourself” online brokers, most seem to understand they are in the service business and heavily promote their VIP concierge service. Like many things in life, it’s a personal preference, however, for the novice, a bit of hand holding may save some pain and suffering as you familiarize yourself with the vagaries of charting a plane.
Another factor when chartering is who owns the jets. The answer is there thousands of owners who have the jets in the charter pool (referred to as Part 135 of the FAA aviation requirements). Some of these jets are operated by fleet operators such as XOJet, VistaJet, TMC Jets and JetSuite, which own their jets. Most, however, are owned by private individuals or companies that charter them out via management companies that operate the planes on behalf of their owners. The agreements can vary widely, but generally include hiring flight crews, maintenance and dispatch, approving when the jet is available for the charter market versus on call for the owner. The most interesting point here is while fleet operators generally have similar configurations on their fleets, each owner can arrange their plane however they see fit, so you will see the exact same type of plane, but one with 11 seats and the other with 14 or 15. Keep in mind, filling every seat on a private jet is likely to create a somewhat cramped environment. Some people pay for a jet with a few extra seats because they want more room, others don’t. Availability of WiFi also varies. Some operators offer the service across all their planes, others don’t. Like most of your choices in private aviation it is up to personal preference. That includes whether or not you want a flight attendant, depending on size of jet and operator, is sometimes an extra charge.
Without taking a deep dive into safety, you may want to also ask your broker about Wyvern and ARGUS ratings. Both are privately held companies that provide ratings of private aviation operators, including on-site audits. You will often find charter companies and operators promoting these ratings on their websites.
Perhaps, the best advice for those of you who expect to be flying regularly privately is to play the market to start. Try a different type of plane for each flight. Like car owners, jet owners will tell you all the reasons they like their particular type of jet. Your reasons may vary, so charter (before you buy) is a great way see first hand what’s out there.
To help you out we spoke to a number of industry insiders, including charter brokers, fleet operators, jet card providers, pilots and FBO private jet terminal executives to ask them for their specific favorite jets in categories. In some cases the ones we spoke to operate the jets they are recommending. Of course, considering they’ve spent tens of millions to buy these jets, their rationale on why they like a particular plane, while obviously self-serving is backed by a big financial commitment. The breakout of categories below comes from Jet Advisors.
In the Compact Light Jets category, “The Phenom 100s, which seat four people, feature a huge cabin for a light jet, offer tremendous comfort and reliability, and cruise at 450 miles per hour at up to 40,000 feet, making them ideal for one to three hour hops,” says Alex Wilcox, CEO of JetSuite, which operates the type.
Roger Woolsey, CEO of Millionair, which operates 30 FBOs, says, “I love the smell of jet-fuel in the morning, so I’m admittedly fond of all jets. But I must say the Citation CJ3 is a particular favorite! It leads the pack in her low operating costs,flies at 400-knots per hour, has excellent range which allows my team to fly to any (of our) FBOs nonstop from the corporate headquarters in Houston, and it has enough luggage space for every passenger to bring their “real” luggage! The CJ-3 fills so many boxes without sacrifice…speed, range, comfort, price, and luggage space.”
For Andrew Collins, CEO of Sentient, “The Phenom 300 is more of a super light jet than a traditional Light Preferred…I really like that it’s the largest cabin in the light jet category with great performance in the air and on the ground (short runways). The Phenom 300 has a range of 1,971 nm, which is New York to Aspen non-stop with enough fuel for an alternate at its maximum speed of 453 knots. Typical seating configuration is six passengers and, for its size, it has great luggage capacity.”