Private aviation is an attractive alternative to commercial air travel for both business and leisure travelers. But the array of services can be rather daunting to someone who is considering it for the first time. This article provides an introduction to private aviation, designed to help you understand why and how to get the most from your next private plane journey.

On-board gulfstream

Why Fly on a Private Jet?

There are a number of reasons why people switch to using private aviation. A major one, that might not even occur to a beginning flyer, is the amount of time you can save. Instead of having to deal with long check-in processes and waits at the commercial terminal before departure, you can simply arrive at the airport of your choice a few minutes before take-off, get on-board, and depart, saving several hours of sitting around. An additional time-saving factor is that smaller private aircraft can fly into smaller airfields, often allowing you to depart from and land closer to your ultimate destination than if you rely on a commercial service.

Another time-related benefit is linked to the flexibility of booking. Many services allow you to request a plane within just a few hours of departure. If you are held up on your way to the airport, no problem. The plane will wait for you. You might even be able to change your plans mid-flight, if necessary.

Further conveniences of private flight are that there are fewer restrictions on what you can bring on-board, so the family pets, musical instruments, business products etc can all go with you in the cabin. Then there is the issue of comfort. Rather than being cramped into a tiny seat with little to no leg space, you can enjoy plush armchairs, lots of space, perhaps a bed for that overnight trip. You can also request any specific personal requirements, such as your favorite food and drink, to be ready on-board. Your time in the air is designed to be comfortable and enjoyable so that you arrive refreshed at your destination.

Reports have shown that business travelers are able to use their in-flight time more productively than if flying commercially, in large part due to the comfort and privacy. You can even participate in meetings, either on-board or virtually using the WiFi service.

Types of Aircraft

The type of aircraft you need will depend on a variety of factors, including number of people flying, distance to be traveled, luggage space needs, and cost. Below is a brief overview of the different classes of aircraft. It is worth noting that even within classes, the aircraft passenger capacity will vary according to model and the cabin configuration. Be sure to check that the aircraft you are reserving will meet your needs.

  • Turboprop. Turboprops are the cheapest type of aircraft, but the trade-off is that they have a shorter range and travel at lower speeds than their jet-engine counterparts. Passenger capacity ranges from 4 to 9, depending on seating configuration and the range is up to 1,800 nautical miles. Examples include the Beechcraft King Air 350i and the Pilatus PC12.
  • Light jet. These typically accommodate 6 to 9 passengers, with 70-80 cubic feet of space for baggage and a range of up to 4 hours of flight time (2,000 nm). They offer many of the benefits of a mid-size jet but, because of their smaller size, can access smaller airports. On the flip side, the cabins can feel rather small. Examples include the Embraer Phenom 300, Cessna Citation Excel and CJ3, and the Nextant 400XTI.
  • Mid-size jet. With room for 8 to 10 passengers, mid-size jets have more luggage storage capacity (approximately 100 cubic feet) and a longer range (7 hours or about 2,500 nm) than lighter models. They often have a taller cabin. Examples include the Cessna Citation Latitude and Sovereign, the Bombardier Learjet 60, and the Hawker 800XP.
  • Super mid-size jets. Super mid-size often accommodate 8 to 12 passengers. Luggage capacity varies according to model but is usually more than that of light or mid-size jets. Their prime benefit is a longer range (up to 8 hours of flight time) which makes them ideal for transcontinental trips. Examples include the Cessna Citation Longitude and Citation X, Bombardier Challenger 350, and the Gulfstream G200.
  • Heavy jets. The largest of the classes can hold up to 18 passengers and their luggage. Travel range can be more than 4,000 nm, making them well-suited to intercontinental journeys. Examples include the Bombardier Global 5000 and 6000, the Gulfstream G550 and the Gulfstream GIV.

Ways to Fly Privately

There are several different options for those interested in private aviation, from chartering for one journey to outright ownership. Below are the options with their pros and cons.

  • Charter. If you rarely fly, or if you want a taste of flying privately, a charter flight may be the most cost-effective way to go. There is no long-term commitment or large upfront cost associated with chartering; you simply pay for what you need when you need it. Some services offer one-off chartering, while others offer a membership wherein you pay an annual membership and then pay per flight hour. You can find planes with a few hours’ notice, but typically reserve with several days’ notice to find the best options.
  • Jet cards. When you buy a jet card, you are prepaying for a set number of flight hours and locking in an hourly rate. The most common increment is 25 hours, but you may be able to find smaller increments, or you can buy more if you wish. At the time of purchase, you either buy based upon the type of plane most suited to your needs, or you lock in hourly rates on different aircraft. There are two broad categories of card providers, those who own or manage a closed fleet of aircraft, and those who work with selected aircraft operators to find the right planes. You typically have the ability to schedule a flight within a day of travel.
  • Fractional ownership. Ever wanted to own part of an aircraft? With fractional ownership, you do just that. You enjoy the benefits of ownership but without the hassle of ongoing maintenance. And, although you buy a share in a specific aircraft, you usually gain access to the company’s entire fleet. Share sizes vary as does the length of commitment. Fractional aircraft ownership can be an option for those who fly more than 50 hours per year and who wish to reap the same capital asset tax benefits as they would from ownership.
  • Outright ownership. For frequent travelers, those flying several hundred hours a year, outright or whole ownership may offer the most bang for your buck. There are lots of things to consider when buying an aircraft and given the costs involved this should be done with the help of experienced advisors. Ownership provides complete control, not just in terms of availability of the aircraft, but also in terms of interior and exterior customization. On the other hand, ownership comes with an array of requirements and related ongoing costs. Fuel, cabin crew, insurance, maintenance, hangar rental, and all regulatory fees are continuing expenses that should be factored into the buying decision. Selecting the right aircraft management company can make owning your aircraft a lot smoother, once you are the proud owner.

Private Flight Costs

As you have gathered from the information in this article, there are many variables to consider in choosing which plane to fly and how to use it. These variables also play a part in determining the costs of private aviation.

Chartering has no up-front costs and you only pay for the cost associated with your flight. Expect to pay from $1,500 per flight hour for a turboprop up to more than $10,000 per hour for a long-range heavy jet. Always get a fully inclusive quote and check with the charter provider to ensure there won’t be any hidden charges at the time of invoicing. If the operator doesn’t have a plane based at the airport you want to leave from, you may have to pay for the repositioning costs of bringing the aircraft to you. Similarly, if you make a one-way flight, you may have to pay the cost of the empty plane flying back to its base – termed a dead-head or empty leg flight.

The purchase of a jet card takes care of most costs, since the hourly rates tend to be all inclusive, although some providers add additional fees for fuel, or may quote rates without the required Federal Excise Tax (FET). Rates start at about $5,000+ per hour for light jets, so $125,000+ for a 25-hour card, with higher rates for newer aircraft.

Fractional ownership requires an upfront fee for the purchase of the share, plus regular charges for ongoing expenses and an hourly rate for flight time. For a 1/16 share of an Embraer Phenom 300, expect to pay from $625,000, with additional monthly expenses of about $6,000 and an hourly rate of over $2,000. A larger jet will cost significantly more.

The last and most costly option is ownership. Prices vary enormously. It is possible to buy a pre-owned light jet for less than $1 million, but it may require significant maintenance, be less fuel efficient and have high operating costs. A brand-new heavy jet can cost upwards of $50 million. Expect to pay an additional $1 million or more per year for operating costs and maintenance. Some examples of ownership costs for several aircraft are available at these articles King Air 350, Phenom 300, Gulfstream G450, and Falcon 7X.

Where Can You Fly?

Flying commercially in the United States offers access to roughly 500 airports. In contrast, private aircraft can fly out of and into some 5,000 airports and airstrips across the country. In other words you have about 10x as many places to go to, so there’s likely to be an airport closer to your destination. In more remote places, the large commercial aircraft cannot fly in simply because the runway is not long enough, so smaller private planes are the only way to get there. SherpaReport offers a searchable database of all US commercial and private airports and helipads.

There are lots of articles on SherpaReport about private aviation. Follow some of the links in the article above or contact us for more information.