To charter, buy a card, own a share or fully own—that is the question

June 15, 2009

Between jammed terminals, seemingly endless security lines, crowded flights and the fiendish hub-and-spoke system, private jet travel has become more and more attractive. There are many ways to go, and which one you choose will depend on your budget as well as how much flying you plan to do.

Charter

How it works: Charter customers pay for and get the whole plane for the trip, whether there's one passenger or seven. Response time varies widely from several hours to a day or more. The hourly fee includes charges for the time you're in the air ("wheels-up"), taxi time, wait time, overnight time and airport fees. If you're only going one way, you pay a good deal more per leg than if you're turning right around.

Ownership costs: None. Chartering is à; la carte private jet travel; you pay as you go.

Recurring Costs: Rates vary tremendously depending on the airplane you book, from around $2,000 per hour for a small jet to more than $10,000 per hour for the largest and fastest private jets.

Pros: No airline security, cattle calls, hub-and-spoke nightmares or liability. Charter is great for those who don't fly much or want to get their first taste of private air travel.

Cons: There are hundreds of charter operators, so knowing which to call isn't obvious. The right plane is often the plane they have.

Top Providers: Executive Jet and Jet Aviation are two of the largest; to search for a service by region, visit jetcharterhub.com.

Membership (Jet Cards)

How it works: Most jet membership services are charter brokers, or middlemen arranging services with charter providers. (They vet the charter companies and use their buying power to get members lower rates.) Jet cards are also offered by fractional companies, which fly their own planes. A jet card is like a gift card: You buy one with a certain amount of money or number of hours on it and as you fly, the card is debited. The cost is the same whether you're alone or with an entourage.

Ownership costs: The least expensive jet card (from Blue Star Jets) is $50,000, good for around fifteen hours of wheels-up time. $100,000 is a typical starting amount.

Recurring costs: None. With a jet card, like a debit card, everything is paid for up front.

Pros: Membership offers tremendous ease of use. The typical jet card holder wants a simple flying experience with great flexibility, including the ability to use another service if desired.

Cons: The age and quality of the equipment can be uneven unless you go with a card from a fractional company or a top charter broker.

Top providers: Charter brokers: Blue Star Jets, Jet Aviation, SentientJet

Fractional-owned: JetPass, Marquis Jet, SkyJet, Vector JetCard

Fractional Ownership

How it works: Fractional customers own a piece of a particular plane, along with several other customers (though you might never fly in that actual plane). When you want to fly, simply make a call as little as four hours in advance. Shares are sold in increments from one-sixteenth to one-half, though the majority are either one-quarter or one-eighth (a one-eighth share gives you about 100 hours of annual flying time). The fractional provider maintains and staffs the airplanes.

Ownership costs: From less than $500,000 for a one-sixteenth share in a small jet to more than $10 million for a quarter share in a big one. A one-eighth share in the popular Hawker 400XP costs about $800,000.

Recurring costs: Once you've bought a share, there's a large monthly management fee as well as an hourly occupied fee. The seven-seat Hawker 400XP, for example, costs about $11,000 a month plus $1,500 per occupied hour.

Pros: "Frax" are famous for top-notch customer service and an excellent safety record. They also give you fast response time, new or near-new planes and guaranteed professional crews.

Cons: Flying fractional on a per-hour basis is very expensive. Plus you're locked in for the length of your contract.

Top providers: CitationShares
NetJets
Flexjet
FlightOptions

Whole Ownership

How it works: Just as the name says, you own the whole airplane and all that implies: staffing, hangaring, maintaining, operating, insuring and more. Private owners of business jets tend to use professional management companies to take care of all of these details, which is great but adds to the cost. Many private owners charter out their airplanes (through their management company) when not using them, which helps offset the big costs.

Ownership costs: A new private jet currently costs anywhere from $4.5 million to $50 million. Used jets can be had for $1million or less, but maintenance then becomes a bigger cost.

Recurring costs: The purchase price is just the beginning. Annual costs of owning a jet range from as little as $500,000 for a smaller plane to as much as several million a year for the biggest airline-style jets.

Pros: Pride of ownership. Your usage is nearly unlimited, and there are no concerns for wait time, taxi time or overnights. With a top-of-the-line jet, you can outfit it exactly as you want it.

Cons: It's by far the most expensive way to fly. And if your plane is in the shop, you'll need to charter or obtain flight time some other way.

Top providers: Bombardier/Learjet
Cessna Citation
Dassault Falcon Jet
Embraer
Gulfstream
Raytheon Aircraft

Very Light Jets (VLJs)

How it works: Hitting the market this year, this new breed of superlight jet uses scaled-down engines and simpler systems, making them less expensive to buy and operate. VLJs are expected to greatly decrease the cost of charter, membership, fractional ownership and whole ownership, as well as to spawn regional air-taxi services.

Ownership costs: VLJs are expected to cost between $1.5 million (the Eclipse 500) and $2.75 million (the Embraer Phenom 100).

Recurring costs: It will depend on how you take your VLJ: in charter form, as a member, fractionally or whole (see above). Depending on how often the plane is used, owners should expect annual operating costs between $250,000 and $500,000.

Pros: If VLJs come in at the promised price points, they'll be astoundingly less expensive than all other jets in every respect—not just to buy outright but to own a piece of or charter as well.

Cons: They're not here quite yet; they're very small inside; in most cases they'll be slower than conventional jets; they don't yet have an established safety record.

Top providers: Adam Aircraft (A700)
Cessna Citation (Mustang)
Eclipse Aviation
(Eclipse 500)
Embraer (Phenom 100)

You May Like