Up in the Air
Private plane transportation—from full to fractional ownership—is gaining traction for its service, flexibility and convenience.
By Keith Loria
Imagine you’re relaxing at the St. Regis when an urgent business call comes in requiring you to hop on a plane and deal with the issue later that night. Forget commercial travel; what you need is a private plane you can schedule at a time and airport that works for you.
“A lot of people choose to fly with us because they don’t want to deal with the hassle of flying nowadays,” explains Jon Maxfield, director of sales for Jet Linx. “We offer convenience, safety, great service—you can literally roll up with your suitcase, get on and go five minutes later.”
Business or pleasure, flying suddenly becomes fun again, knowing that there won’t be security lines and that the experience will be tailored for comfort and convenience from start to finish.
Yes, in today’s fast-paced world, time is often of the essence. That’s why frequent fliers seek alternatives to increasingly inefficient commercial air travel.
Outright aircraft ownership may seem the easiest way to do this, but it’s not a practical option for some, and others have found that better solutions exist, including fractional ownerships, jet card programs, leasing and on-demand or ad-hoc charters.
“One of the benefits of private aviation in North America is that when you compare it to commercial carriers, they serve only about 450 airports in the United States,” says Bruce Peddle, VP of sales and marketing for FlexJet, which offers charters, fractional ownerships and jet card services. “But depending on the type of aircraft, private planes can operate to more than 5,000 airports in the U.S., so your access grows substantially.”
Sharing the Ride
“Our company is great because it provides guaranteed direct flights, guaranteed service and guaranteed rates for companies and individuals,” Jet Linx’s Maxfield says. “Also, we do aircraft management, which means that we make it available to others, and they can rent it out and help offset the costs of having your own plane.”
While many people and businesses rely on their own private plane, a good alternative for those who don’t want to invest that heavily is to buy an ownership package in one of the many airplane companies that offer fractional ownership, allowing the convenience of a private plane with a lot less hassle.
“Fractional ownership provides an air travel experience that is convenient and saves time. Passengers can arrive for their flight just minutes before departure and land at more than 5,000 private aviation airports nationwide,” says Steve Santo, CEO of Avantair. “There’s no checking in, no security lines, no layovers and no lost baggage. Plus, because you can schedule your aircraft wherever and whenever, it’s virtually everywhere you want it to be.”
With fractional ownership, customers purchase an up-front share in an aircraft at its market value, plus the cost of additional monthly management fees.
“It’s not like a timeshare of a vacation home where you only have a certain amount of time where you can use your portion of a timeshare; what fractional ownership does is allow you to buy increments typically in 1/16 shares and they allow you to fly your 50 hours on the airplane of your choice,” Peddle says. “You can total up those 50 hours anytime you want and it gives you full access to a network of 83 aircraft, so essentially, you can call up the membership at any time and have the plane ready to go.”
Many guests at the St. Regis properties have taken advantage of these services and have discovered that making flight arrangements doesn’t have to be a chore or hassle. Instead, it is a welcome return to the old days of when flying was fun, not having to worry about long security lines, parking nightmares at the airports, and commuting from large airports to their final destinations.
Starbase Aviation is another company that allows travelers to buy blocks of pre-paid hours on a chartered jet, which eliminates having to go in on fractional ownership or buy your own plane, while still allowing its passengers the liberty of being able to come and go when and where they please. Starbase guarantees jet availability and a locked-in price for its most popular routes, with custom quotes easily available for custom routes as well.
“We have a very diverse fleet that’s grown considerably over the past year, as we’ve added nine new aircraft to our portfolio,” says Samantha Steele of Starbase. “You can know what you pay every time … and you don’t have to go through security, you can take your pets with, you have the ability to fly wherever and whenever you want—on-demand 24/7, 365.”
The Houston-based private jet company also allows fliers to charter a plane to fly anytime and for as long as they wish—with many makes and models of jet to choose from, and room for up to 19 passengers on its larger jets.
With one simple phone call, these private jet companies will be happy to assist guests with all of their travel plans, from catering needs to ground transportation to airport recommendations.
“It’s a lot less expensive [than owning your own] and a lot easier because you don’t need to worry about the pilots or scheduling or insurance,” Santo says. “You pick who you want to fly with, you’re on time and you don’t have issues that you have flying commercial.”
The real benefit is for people who don’t want the hassle of all the administration duties required with owning a plane, but still want to be able to pick up and go somewhere at the drop of a hat.
With fractional ownership, the larger the capacity and the longer the range, the higher the capital fee and ongoing charges will be. However, if you are a first-class business traveler, the costs are not out of line for these services.
Consider what happens when those who own their own plane find that it breaks down or has to go in for service; there’s no plane as a backup. That would never happen with fractional ownership.
For example, Jet Linx offers programs that allow both jet rental and personal plane management. The company operates from bases in Omaha, Indianapolis, San Antonio, Dallas and Denver, but can take fliers anywhere in North America— including a refreshing, breezy getaway to the Caribbean or Mexico—landing at all the airports
and airstrips that the bigger commercial jets cannot. One of the biggest perks of private aviation is not just avoiding the headaches of crowds, parking and security, but also the ability to fly anywhere at anytime.
The Benefits of Ownership
Still, full ownership is the ideal choice for high- net-worth individuals, corporations and senior executives who have the money and need constant flexibility. Costs can range anywhere from $3 million to more than $70 million for a long-range jet, and this is before factoring in the annual cost of employing crew, maintenance and the actual operating costs incurred in flight.
The big benefit for full ownership, especially in this day and age, is that at any one point in time, about 14 percent of all planes that have been built are for sale, and with prices at historical lows, you can get a lot of bang for your buck right now.
For those who own their own plane, many management companies exist that can provide the services to make things less problematic.
JFI Jets is a multifaceted private flying company consisting of a fleet of a dozen jets, full-service private aviation maintenance, fueling and hangar facilities, as well as Fixed Base Operation terminals for private aviation clients in California and New York at the Long Beach Airport and Farmingdale Republic Airport respectively.
Unlike the fractional airplane services, JFI takes a different approach with private plane ownership. The company started an aircraft management program called JetFlite Management Advantage, which includes guaranteed savings in virtually every area of aircraft ownership, including fuel, hangar rentals, maintenance, insurance, crew training and global handling.
“Our [customers] own their airplane,” says JFI Jets owner Arik Kislin. “You know who is taking care of your airplane, you have a specific team, you know when it’s been maintained and you know who the pilots are.”
Jet Card Programs
One of the newest additions to private plane travel is the emergence of jet card membership programs, which are especially beneficial for passengers who make several short trips a year.
The way it works is that clients prepay for a set number of flight hours in their chosen category of aircraft and are guaranteed a discounted price for the package that they choose.
“Jet cards offer a simple solution for those who wish to negotiate the cost of their private jet flying annually and strike a deal with one single supplier that offers a consistent level of service and support,” says Walter Speck, a Los Angeles businessman who has switched from fractional ownership to a jet card program. “Similar to purchasing a gift certificate for a restaurant you like, trust and frequent often, but even better due to the guaranteed reservation and discounted price.”
Companies that offer their own jet card programs include Sentient Jet, U.S. Jet Airways and CitationAir.
“In between these two ends of the private aviation spectrum, we offer Jet Access, which is a unique product that provides the financial benefits of fractional ownership without the capital commitment,” says Renee Levine, director of communications for CitationAir.
Ad hoc charter is one of the most flexible methods of flying privately. In its simplest terms, a customer calls a charter company, chooses their desired aircraft, flight route and desired date, and books a flight. This method is the ideal option for those who wish to avoid commitment beyond the short term, or for those who have ever-changing travel needs.
“In one side of our business, a person purchases an aircraft and gives it to us, and we manage it for them and handle all their human resource activities (hiring pilots, fuel, insurance, et cetera), and it allows us to rent it out to the public on a non-demand basis,” says Matthew Winer, president of EAS, based at the Opa-Locka Airport in Miami. “The other side is the on- demand jet charter. You can call me up and tell me you want to go from here to there, and I will go out on the marketplace of more than 25,000 airplanes and find you the right plane and the right mission, and I will go and get you that plane and broker the best deal for you.”
“Green” is also en vogue. Avantair is the exclusive fractional provider of the Piaggio Avanti Turboprop airplane, which can reach light jet speeds, averaging 425 mph, with up to 40 percent less fuel consumption than comparable private jets.
“It burns a lot less fuel, so as a result, pricing is a lot less,” Santo explains. “It’s a full standup cabin, with a usable bathroom and anything that the passenger wants from top notch catering to pizza and burgers.”
With the variety of options at the ready, you can say goodbye to ever flying commercial again and enjoy the lavishness and luxury of a private plane.