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Private Jet Services: Your Guide to Flying by Private Jet

1 September 2020

When it comes to private jet services and flying private there's a whole raft of options to choose from. From fractional ownership and monthly memberships to pay as you go, find out which private jet service is right for you...

Best for those looking to isolate on board a yacht

While current travel restrictions and cancelled flights have put a halt to holiday plans, VistaJet's Jet-to-Yacht service can help get you navigate the global safety regulations and get you to your boat so you can isolate on board. The World Health Organisation has singled out Malta as a shining example of how countries should fight COVID-19, so, all you need is a passport or visa which allows you to travel to Malta and VistaJet will sort out the rest, including flights from your preferred location, private customs and VIP lounge on arrival and yacht handling via their local agent.

Best for those who want an asset

Unless you spend several hundred hours a year in the air, it probably isn’t worth buying your own plane. Spend at least 50 hours flying, and it might make sense to buy a share in an aircraft. Hence companies such as NetJets, the pioneer of fractional ownership.

Originally founded in 1964 as a charter and management company, NetJets now sees itself, in the words of NetJets Europe CEO Mario Pacifico, as “a kind of private club,” where “owners are at the centre of everything we do.”

If you spend at least 50 hours flying, and it might make sense to buy a share in an aircraft

If you spend at least 50 hours flying, and it might make sense to buy a share in an aircraft. There may be occasions when you need something larger with a longer range – for instance, a Dassault Falcon, Bombardier Global 6000 or Gulfstream G550. No problem: your share equates to a certain number of hours of flying time, not necessarily in the plane you’ve bought into, but in any of NetJets’ 700-plus planes. Owners are spared all the hassle of recruiting and employing pilots and cabin crew, negotiating fuel costs or dealing with maintenance and hangar costs. And a plane can be ready with just half a day’s notice.

Backed by Warren Buffett, who became a member in 1995 and liked it so much his Berkshire Hathaway group acquired the company three years later, NetJets also promises a secure investment. If after three years you opt out, it promises to buy back your share.

In Europe, Luxembourg-based Jetfly operates on a smaller model, with a fleet of 22 Pilatus PC-12 single-engine turboprops, an aircraft with a range of 2,700 kilometres, able to fly at high altitudes and compact enough to land at smaller airfields, hence its suitability for alpine destinations such as Courchevel. A 1/16 share starts at about $350,000, which buys 35 hours a year of flight time. For longer-range flights, it also has three Cessna Citations and will soon acquire its first Pilatus PC-24 twin-engine business jet.

Bombardier Global aircraft are flown by NetJets and VistaJet

Best for those who like to pay up front

It would be an oversimplification to liken a jet card to the Metro card New Yorkers use to get about their city on public transport, but essentially they equate to the same idea: a pre-paid rectangle of plastic redeemable against a number of hours, charged at a fixed rate of flying time.

The first such membership scheme was the Marquis Jet Card, acquired by NetJets in 2010, which enables users to pre-pay for 25 hours of guaranteed flight time on NetJets aircraft from about $170,000. NetJets also offers the less flexible Elite Jet Card. Since then, more than 35 companies have launched a similar service, including Air Partner, Clay Lacy Aviation, Delta Private Jets, Flexjet, Jet Linx Aviation, JetSuite, Magellan Jets, Nicholas Air, Private Jet Services, PrivateFly, Prive Jets, Sentient Jet, Solairus Aviation, Star Jets International and XOJET. They offer hundreds of programmes – which is the most appealing to you is really a question of taste.

Swiss company VistaJet, for example, has a fleet of more than 70 Bombardier Global and Challenger private jets, and what it calls a “flight-hour subscription plan”, on which rates work out at between $12,000 and $19,000 an hour – although, as a spokesperson pointed out, the rate varies because every contract is tailored to each individual client’s needs.

Equipped with Wi-Fi and satphones, and staffed by “hostesses” trained by the British Butler Institute, its fleet enables clients to be flown on demand to just about anywhere – it even has a licence to operate internal flights in China. “Our pilots,” notes its founder and chairman Thomas Flohr, “have unparalleled experience flying into and out of the hardest-to-reach places on Earth, allowing you to be at more meetings in more locations within the shortest period of time anywhere in the world.”

Better yet, you can sleep comfortably en route: cabins have three discrete zones, and on the Challenger 850 and Global 5000 and 6000 (the latter can fly for 13 hours without refuelling), the central and rear cabins can each be configured to accommodate a double bed as well as three additional singles, equipped with comfy mattresses, down duvets, cashmere blankets and eye masks, even brushed cotton pyjamas. The London bookseller Heywood Hill curates a selection of on-board reading matter. And the New York apothecary brand Le Labo has created the bespoke fragrance that scents the cabin. No wonder celebs such as the Beckham family have used it.

A Cessna Citation business jet operated by Wheels Up

Best for short hops

Back in 2013 it struck Kenny Dichter, a former vice-chairman of NetJets and co-founder of the Marquis card, that many short trips made within the US on jets could just as well be made for considerably less outlay on slower turboprops. So he set up Wheels Up. Based in New York, its fleet of more than 300 includes the eight-seater Beechcraft King Air 350i, which it describes pragmatically as “a workhorse driven by intelligence”. The quid pro quo of turboprops is longer in the air – a maximum of two and a half hours (though given that the cabin height is just 1.4 metres, perhaps that’s just as well) – but a restricted range. You’re not going to get to the Caribbean, except from Florida.

Since it raised more than $100 million in capital last year, the company is both expanding beyond the US into Europe and expanding its exclusive fleet to include jets, specifically Citation X and Citation Excel/XLS .

Core members pay an initiation fee of $17,500 and annual dues of just under half that thereafter, and this gives them guaranteed access to the fleet to use as needed, at as little as 24 hours’ notice charged on a per-hour basis. They also get seats on shuttle services to the most popular destinations. Beyond that, there is no capital outlay, no depreciating asset and no commitment to minimum hours. And its website and app allow members to share flights and book “empty-leg” return flights at discounts.

Best for super-frequent flyers and commuters

Over on the West Coast in Santa Monica, California, Surf Air offers another alluringly simple membership model perfectly suited to anyone who needs to commute between cities. For a monthly fee starting from $1,950, it offers unlimited flights – on Embraer Phenom 300 executive jets, Swiss-built Pilatus PC-12 NG single-engine turboprops and, on some routes, Cessna Citations, between private terminals in destinations in California (Los Angeles, San Francisco and Santa Barbara) and in Texas (Houston, Dallas, Austin and Midland).

Best for flexible flyers

Each month, an estimated 3,000 private jets make more than 40,000 flights with only the pilots aboard. Either they’re en route to collect passengers or returning to base having dropped them off. These are known as empty legs, and securing a passage on one has long been the least expensive way of flying private. Indeed, it can save you up to 75 per cent of the cost of a conventional charter.

In 2011, the London-based marketing entrepreneur Clive Jackson launched Victor in response to the news that BMI was cutting its scheduled route to Mallorca, where he had a holiday home. Rather than grit his teeth and fly commercial, his response was to set up a free-to-access website brokering seats with clearly visible prices on the empty legs of jet charters, so making private aviation accessible to a wider market.

Of course, the plane needs to be flying your way. But Victor now has more than 100,000 members worldwide, “from CEOs and C-Suite execs to ultra-high net worth individuals including high- profile celebrities and successful international musicians,” says a spokesman, pointing out that it has a department dedicated to chartering private jets for tours by the likes of Rihanna, Calvin Harris, Ellie Goulding and Kendrick Lamar – who can charter the 7,000-plus aircraft on its books to more than 40,000 airports worldwide. (Last time I looked it was offering seats on more than 1,500 flights – from London Stansted to Almaty in Kazakhstan; Jeddah to Mykonos; Vienna to Brussels; Voronezh in Russia to Tashkent in Uzbekistan...) And if you’re looking to go from, say, London to the Côte d’Azur and are flexible about dates, there’s a sporting chance you’ll find something.

Alternatively it enables members to book individual seats on other users’ charters in order for the charterer to offset the cost. It also connects with members who are looking to co-charter. And if you’d rather just charter a plane in the conventional way, it can organise that, too.

It’s not alone in offering such a model. Geneva-based LunaJets actually started brokering the sale of empty legs in 2007, expanding its services in the wake of the global financial crisis to become what it describes as “a top-service, low-commission, on-demand charter model”.

Best for big spenders

The ultimate freedom, of course, is to buy your own plane. You could own a Bombardier Learjet, for example, for $12 million and it will carry eight people at 530mph for a distance of 2,300 miles or so. But if you want to go transatlantic and carry more people, more quickly, you’ll need to upgrade to something such as a Gulfstream G550, the world’s top-selling inter-continental business jet, which has a range of 7,700 miles and a top speed of 679mph. A new one costs upwards of $53 million.

Gulfstream is currently offering a nine-year-old model with 2,000 flying hours and 661 landings under its belt for $28 million – but then, like all aircraft, you’ll need to add the high costs of maintenance, fuel, hangar space, landing fees, pilot pay and depreciation at $2-3 million per year. You can of course recoup some costs by making your own jet available for charter.