To access the longest range long-haul private jets has always meant fewer options than other cabin categories. Outside of full ownership, most charter operators have significant limitations on the types of trips they will take.
After all, what Gulfstream G650 or Bombardier Global Express owner wants his or her jet making a bunch of short hops from New York to Washington D.C. or from Los Angeles to San Francisco? This increases both wear and tear and brings forward expensive maintenance, which is driven by landings and takeoffs, not miles that are flown.
From a customer standpoint, therefore, while it is possible to charter on-demand state-of-the-art large cabin, long-haul aircraft, you might need to charter another aircraft for short hauls that are part of a trip with several long-haul segments. It also means a myriad of configurations since large-cabin jet owners have a multitude of options to make sure their aircraft is designed to their personal preferences.
On the flip side is full aircraft ownership of jets that cost over $65 million new from the manufacturer, including all the responsibilities that come with it.
Aside from management companies and charter brokers, there are essentially three key players offering global solutions for those looking to have a consistent experience from aircraft to aircraft without the hassle of ownership. Each of the three has a distinctive approach to how you can access these amazing machines.
NetJets is the largest operator of private jets in the world. It offers the Bombardier Global 5000, 6000 and will soon be offering the 7500. All are available on fractional shares and leases, meaning a commitment of at least 50 hours per year for three to five years. This may sound like a lot of hours but when you think about their ability to fly over 12 hours nonstop, just a few trips could take you up to the minimum hours.
For the Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary, the key selling points include the highest safety ratings, and an impressive support team supported by in-house meteorologists. Its focus on safety goes beyond what the ratings agencies require and includes downloading cockpit data from every flight that it can then use for training. Data showing where each of its jets touched down on the runway for every landing led NetJets to design its own approaches into several mountain airports, further increasing their margin of safety.
Pilots go through four days of simulator and classroom training twice per year and, despite a pilot shortage, NetJets has become a destination in aviation, attracting even former commercial airline pilots. Flight crews at NetJets average 16 years with the company and over 10,000 hours. Its attrition rate is under 5%, including retirements and extended leaves. In 2018 NetJets hired 185 new pilots who had an average of 6,500 flight hours.
NetJet’s in-house team of weathermen focus on making sure each flight is as pleasant as possible, and work with dispatchers and owner services teams to propose moving departures times for fliers who want to avoid turbulent weather or get ahead of possible airport closures.
For long-haul flights, NetJets has been a leader in working with experts to study the effects of jet lag, and pilots are monitored not only by legal duty hours but for possible jet lag. Executives say when needed it means they can always change out crew or fly in backup aircraft, making sure owners stay on schedule as much of the time as possible.
While NetJets has put its power behind the Global Express, Flexjet is the exclusive fractional provider for the Gulfstream G650 in North America. More interestingly, it recently ditched the traditional hours-based model of fractional ownership and leases for a days-based one.
Under Flexjet World Access, instead of buying 200 hours annually, you get 75 days, with three shares sold per aircraft. Company officials say cost for both buying your share and the monthly management fees remain the same, however the hourly rate is reduced to under $5,000 per hour.
The idea is that you keep a single G650 with you for your entire trip, unlike traditional fractional ownership programs where you might get a different aircraft and crew for each segment, and planes seldom sit on the tarmac very long. The idea is to more closely replicate full aircraft ownership.
Whereas a one-week trip taking 40 flight hours from the U.S. to Asia and back would eat up 20% of your annual hours under the previous model, under Flexjet’s new approach it would take up less than 10% of your days.
Flexjet wouldn’t disclose exactly how long they will let you keep a G650 with you, except to say it is based on demand, and in addition to only selling three shares per aircraft, there is an extra dedicated G650 to support the program.
While it’s possible to fly as many as 400 hours or more per year in the Flexjet program, the downside is you also pay for ferry flights, so if you are going one-way from New York to Los Angeles, and then staying for some indefinite period, you would need to pay to ferry the aircraft back to New York, although the company says they will work to reduce empty legs customers pay for.
As part of the launch, the program is limited to customers based in either New York or London.
While there are other owned fleet operators in the high-end sector such as Qatar Executive, which holds the largest order book for G650s and G500s, VistaJet has established itself as the most global of any private aviation options, which includes an N-registered fleet to service domestic U.S. flights for customers.
Expected to take delivery of its first Global 7500 this year (it has options for up to 30), Malta-based VistaJet is part of Dubai-based Vista Global, which now includes both XOJET, JetSmarter and Vista Lease, a management option for full aircraft owners.
While NetJets and Flexjet sell shares and leases, VistaJet takes an asset-free approach. It offers on-demand charter on its all-Bombardier fleet of like-configured aircraft, which includes the Global 5000 and 6000 for ultra long-range as well as the Challenger 850, 605 and 350 types.
Its Program, a version of a jet card, offers customized fixed-rate, guaranteed availability pricing ranging from $12,000 to $18,000 per hour based on a commitment of at least 50 hours per year for three year. Its primary service area (meaning no ferry fees for empty legs) covers over 95% of the six continents.