The DEPARTURES Guide to Flying Private

When $500 and $65 million both get you a seat on a private jet, what are the factors to consider? The state of the private-aviation industry now

The world of flying private is more confusing now than ever. There are 84 different jet models, 2,500 charter operators globally, and start-ups launching faster than you can say wheels up. No wonder it’s hard to keep track of the differences between NetJets and VistaJet, a $65 million Gulfstream G650 and a $2.7 million Cessna Citation Mustang, and whether Jay Z invested in JetSmarter or BlackJet. (He actually backed both; BlackJet went bust.) How did we arrive here?

Fliers have owned jets for about 30 years. But in 1998, when Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway acquired NetJets and its parent company, Executive Jet Aviation, the game changed. The purchase raised the visibility of fractional ownership, which makes it possible for people to own a portion of a jet—say, one-sixteenth of an Embraer Phenom 300 for about $470,000 or one-fourth of a Gulfstream G450 for around $10 million (plus operating costs and hourly flying fees). Today NetJets operates more than 310,200 flights annually, has 75,000 members, and owns 700 aircraft, the last of which is equal to that of the world’s fourth-largest commercial airline, Southwest.

The next innovation to disrupt the market: the jet card, which was popularized with the 2001 debut of Marquis Jet, a prepaid, use-it-or-lose-it debit card starting at just over $100,000 for 25 hours of jet flight time. (In 2010, NetJets acquired Marquis Jet; now the service costs $170,000.) For the first time, a company offered access to flying private without the obligations of ownership or the murkiness of hidden fees.

From there, the industry burst open, giving flight to private-jet charters, operators, brokers, even the ability to book a single $500 seat on a shared plane and commercial airline transfers. departures interviewed 15 private-jet company CEOs, five industry analysts, and three plane manufacturers to get a sense of where the industry is now and where it’s going.

The Flying Private Explainer

An easy breakdown of the different ways to jet

Options Approximate Starting Cost Usual Aircraft
Full Jet Ownership

$3 million up front plus additional maintenance, staff, and regulation costs

Locked into one jet
Fractional Jet Ownership $500,000 up front plus fixed management and maintenance fees One aircraft category (light, mid, etc.) or model
Charter $4,000 (pay as you go), oftentimes with lack of transparency in pricing and hidden fees Variable plane, pilot, and safety standards with aircraft that is subject to availability
Jet-Card Programs $125,000 (fixed hours), with a use-it-or-lose-it catch Commitment to one specific aircraft category

 

8 Private Jet Companies to Know
The differences between some of the world's top private-jet operators. Read the article »

Keys to the Sky: A Conversation With Sentient Jet CEO Andrew Collins
Collins, of the fractional jet company Sentient Jet, talks about the lifestyle of flying private. Read the article »

Flying Private: We Asked the Experts
Private-jet-company executives and aviation specialists explain everything from catering to über-custom interiors. Read the article »

Flight Stats

The weird and wonderful world of private jets—by the numbers

  • 61: Fewest minutes from booking to takeoff in 2016
  • 5,000: U.S. airports accessible by private aircraft, compared with only 500 by commercial airlines. In Europe, that’s 3,000 and 300, respectively.
  • 80: Percentage of private-jet flights under two hours
  • $500 Million: Reported price of the world’s most expensive private jet, an Airbus A380 customized by Prince Alwaleed bin Talal bin Abdulaziz Al Saud of Saudi Arabia. Some of the jet’s rumored features include a boardroom, a Turkish bath, and a prayer room with mats that rotate to face Mecca.

     

     

    The Industry's Busiest Airports

    The U.S. remains the world’s biggest private-aviation market, but connecting hubs in Europe and the Middle East are seeing increased amounts of traffic.

    LONDON LUTON AIRPORT
    Not only is Luton just an hour from central London, landing here costs less than half as much as at Biggin Hill and London City. The airport is currently undergoing a $125 million transformation to increase annual passenger capacity by 50 percent to 18 million by 2020. Landing fee: $260.

    VAN NUYS AIRPORT, LOS ANGELES
    This private-aviation airport in the San Fernando Valley averages more than 217,000 takeoffs every year and recently unveiled a $10 million expansion. Landing fee: $0.

    AL MAKTOUM INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT AT DUBAI WORLD CENTRAL
    The airport, located 31 miles from Dubai’s center, is undergoing a $32 billion expansion. In December it debuted the world’s largest VIP terminal at 60,278 square feet. Landing fee: $150.

    TETERBORO AIRPORT, NEW JERSEY
    Located across the Hudson River from Manhattan, Teterboro Airport serves the entire New York City area with five private terminals and 23 hangars. It saw 172,240 arrivals and departures from the start of January 2016 to the end of January 2017. Landing fee: $774.

    PARIS-LE BOURGET 
    Seven miles northeast of Paris (closer than Charles de Gaulle),
    this airport has seven private terminals, sometimes referred to as fixed-base operators, or FBOs, more than any other in the world. Landing fee: $316*.

     

    *We calculated landing fees based on maximum takeoff weight. All approximate landing fees cited are based on a heavy jet like the Bombardier Global Express. Fun fact: Japan has the highest landing fees. To land a heavy jet like a Gulfstream 5 at Tokyo’s Haneda Airport costs $827.