FLIGHT DECK — THE FRIENDLY SKIES

Navigator News > Aviation

For the first time since 2008, there were more than three million business aviation flights in North America this past year. While manufacturers continue to slowly regain their footing in terms of new orders for private jets, the recovery is being driven by the plethora of new ways you can access business aviation.

Charter continues to be popular, but the star of the market has been jet cards. In the past ten years, the number of providers has more than doubled and there are now more than 250 programs on the market. While these membership programs have been around for nearly two decades, today’s programs are much more diverse. Whereas jet cards used to come in two flavors — 25 or 50 hours — you can now find programs starting at as few as ten hours (Air Partner or Nicholas Air) and ranging up timetable and price scales to $1 million or more (Delta Private Jets, VistaJet).

At one time, card programs all required flyers to pay the entire amount of the program up front, but today pay-as-you-go options (Jet Linx, Wheels Up, SkyJet) are available. It’s also now possible to get a broker-based jet card with guaranteed Wi-Fi without a premium (Sentient Jet). Of course, it’s not just jets. Wheels Up, StraightLine Private Air, Paramount Business Jets and Nicholas Air all offer programs using turboprops, which provide affordable solutions for short hops.

The currency of jet cards also is evolving. Airstream Jets’ Distance Card provides pricing based on mileage instead of flight hours while Executive AirShare uses a day-based formula. Last year, EcoJets launched a card providing credits of up to 35 percent onto a MasterCard or Visa debit card you can use anywhere for anything. You earn credits by booking at least a week in advance, using pre-2000 aircraft and making qualifying roundtrips. Put another way, for a $100,000 trip, you could get back up to $35,000 from its published rates. In terms of lifestyle perks, Sentient Jet now gives its members more than $125,000 in discounts and freebies from partners.

Another twist comes from Omaha-based Jet Linx Aviation. Unlike many programs, Jet Linx doesn’t sell nationally — it’s only available in 14 airport-based markets. In each market it manages aircraft for owners and sells the time they aren’t using their planes for jet cards. The key difference: each location has its own private lounge, so you don’t have to go through the FBO. With limited traffic, expect your favorite libations waiting for you upon arrival for the flight. Upon return, your car will be detailed, ready and waiting with the air conditioning or heat (whichever temperature setting is deemed appropriate) already set. The company plans to add New York, Boston, San Jose and Los Angeles to its repertoire this year.  Of course, it’s not all about jet cards. More airlines have come to believe that private aviation can be a valuable part of their offerings for corporate accounts and High Net Worth travelers.

Delta Private Jets last year introduced Porsche transfers for customers connecting from its private flights to Delta Air Lines flights. Lufthansa continues to offer Lufthansa Private Jet, Korean Air has a small fleet of private jets — including a Boeing Business Jet, which is popular for charter trips to China and Southeast Asia. Qatar Airways is taking delivery of more Gulfstream G650s for Qatar Executive while Deer Jet — a sister to Hainan Airlines — last year added a private Boeing 787 for charter. And it’s not just airlines dipping into the private aviation sector. Crystal Cruises launched an 84-seat luxury Boeing 777-200LR capable of flying 15 hours nonstop. It includes flatbed seats, a private dining area and a bar. There also is a Bombardier Global Express for charter.

If you don’t need a full jet, there are more options to fly privately by the seat. In Europe, SurfAir has launched scheduled flights using private jet facilities between London City Airport and Zurich, while JetClass sells seats on scheduled private jet flights between more than a dozen European cities. On the U.S. side of the pond, JetSuiteX is expanding its scheduled private jet-like service in California and Las Vegas.

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