Find out how the jet set make it work
Taking private jets can be the same price as flying business class, with none of the inconveniences of flying commercial. We show you how its done.
There aren’t many reasons not to fly by private jet if you can afford it. Why put yourself through the stress of passing through major airport hubs and their hordes or the indignity of security queues when you can go from lounge to take-off in 15 minutes? For anyone seeking complete control over every aspect of their life, it’s a no-brainer and for those needing absolute security and privacy, it’s a necessity.
Certainly, more of us are doing it out of necessity or pleasure. For the first time since 2008, private-jet travel across europe is on the rise, with Western europe home to the fastest growing population of ultra- high-net-worth individuals behind this. According to the Victor Private Jet report 2015, the French, Germans and British are the three nationalities most likely to use a private jet. The busiest route was Paris to Geneva; the most popular destinations Nice (13,250 flights per year), Olbia (Sardinia; 6,200) and Ibiza (5,634).
Social and sporting events feature highly in the $14 billion private aviation charter market. For this year’s Wimbledon tournament, there was a 113% rise in traffic to Northolt airfield and, according to the Knight Frank Wealth report 2016, the UK had the highest number users of private jets to the Monaco Grand Prix (an insider tip: avoid the horrendous congestion of Nice jet park by flying into Liguria and taking a helicopter into Monaco).
Although operating costs have dropped by 20%–30% in most places in the past year, the weak euro has fuelled export markets, spurring an increase in long-range flights between the UK and Africa, Middle east and Asia. That said, the American market is still king, home to more than half of the 20,000 private jets in the world. however, there has been a change in mindset, according to Clive Jackson, founder and CeO of Victor, the fastest growing european jet service. ‘New aircraft sales are down and the on-demand economy means that the justification of owning your own plane has slipped off the agenda. There are 7,000 private jets around the world available for charter. Supply is not the issue choosing the right one is key.’
In the old days, you would call up your broker, but now technology and the advent of Victor’s App, which provides transparent, real-time pricing has been a game-changer in this competitive sector. So what plane to choose?
Boardrooms in the sky
For business travel on the popular London to Geneva route, the roomy 12-seater Citation XLS+ is hard to beat, but, for real ‘ramp presence’ (in the world of private jets, it’s all about the size of your ramp), you can’t beat a Bombardier Challenger 350. This super-luxury mid-range model is perfect for impressing guests, with its full stand-up cabin that can be converted into a boardroom.
VistaJet, which bills itself as the ‘Four Seasons of luxury air travel’ only uses its own fleet of the very latest Bombardier Global 650s for its clientele of oligarchs, Saudi princes and Davids (Cameron and Beckham). Charters cost $7,000 to $14,600 (£4,920–£10,260) per hour, says the company’s spokesman, but its fleet of 58 offers the best in-flight entertainment, catering from Nobu and a curated library, plus the com- pany has just got a special licence to operate internal flights in China.
Planning a trip to the USA or Caribbean? A 12–14-seater Gulfstream G550 is just the ticket, configured with a lounge up front and double beds at the rear it was perfect for a recent trip to the Super Bowl for some Helsinki high rollers (just £55,000 for a one-way non-stop trip from London).
Need to know
If you’re thinking of inviting some friends along for the ride, there are a couple of bits of essential ‘jetiquette’ to observe. Asking guests to contribute to costs is just as much a no-no as offering to contribute if you’re invited on a private yacht. Then, it’s the done thing to offer to pay for the fuel or supply the Dom Pérignon, but not so with a jet. ‘If money effectively exchanges hands, you’re technically liable for the safety and well-being of that guest and, in a super-litigious world, this should be avoided,’ says one industry insider.
‘Also, never talk about “taking the jet”— these days, you say “arranging to fly”.’
Best for short hops
If heading for a short or bumpy runway such as Sion in the Swiss Alps or Siena, the plane of choice is a King Air 350, which seats eight and offers substantial room for luggage. ‘It can land on a sixpence and is ideal for four couples heading to the ski slopes,’ says Mr Jackson. ‘Although the versatile Pilatus PC-12 is also great for popping in and out of the Alps it’s very popular with people who fly themselves it can’t be chartered commercially in Europe, but it’s good for trips from Antigua or St Maarten into St Barts.’
For affordability, the four-seater Cessna Citation Mustang ‘air taxi’ can get a family of four from Nice to Sion for £3,000 or, for a one-night trip from London to Ibiza, an eight- seater Citation Sovereign from London would be about £13,000–£14,000 return—between four couples, that’s about £1,700 per person.
You can, of course, also buy your plane or a fraction of one. According to Steve Varsano of The Jet Business, 600 to 700 new jets are sold each year, with 2,700 to 3,000 traded.
‘If you fly fewer than 150 hours a year, it’s probably not worth buying your own plane,’ he advises, ‘but if you do, certain things are are crucial for some people, such as availability, which means having two- hour windows for your charter. Then, there’s the safety and security of having familiarity with the maintenance history and crew and the convenience of being able to leave your stuff on your plane.’
An affordable way to fly private is to buy the ‘empty leg’ flight of someone else’s charter. The idea of getting a last-minute flight on the cheap sounds tempting—Oxford to Geneva for £2,600 an example but you need to be flexible, which many private-jet regulars are not. You should also bear in mind that, because your trip is dependent on that of the full- paying passenger, if he changes his plans, the operator can cancel your flight without notice and without providing an alternative. ‘Some brokers don’t tell their customers that flights are empty legs and they get a big shock when they’re bumped,’ advises Mr Jackson. ‘Check the terms and conditions.’
Entry level is £1 million for a second- hand small-cabin jet, but, for a new Bombardier Global 6000 (18 seats), you’ll need $60 million (£42m). That’s without the latest couture cabin design Argent Design, Winch and Pinto are big names along with the latest sound systems for your media ‘room’, or even fish tanks, poker tables, cocktail bars or marble bathrooms if you own $90 million (£63m) Airbuses like Donald Trump or Prince Al-Waleed bin Talal. Just like private yachts, private jets are a continuation of home lifestyles.
A halfway house between chartering and full ownership is fractional ownership. Net- Jets offers shares in 10 different types of aircraft that offer owners guaranteed access at short notice. Along with the purchase price of either a block of 25 hours or a share (50–400 hours per year), there are management and hourly operating fees. A third of its 1,500 owners are in the UK. ‘The advan- tage over chartering is that it can guarantee access, even being able to provide an air- craft within an hour,’ says NetJet’s PR, Tom Ville. ‘People can take their pets on board and families can relax you can just enjoy the moment more when going private.’