By Elaine Anne Watt

We have entered a new age where air travel is becoming accessible to more people in more ways than ever before. And, along with accessibility comes increased competition and choices. In the past, most of us would think of private aviation as a luxury that we’d never be able to afford or experience. While still a luxury, the gap between the advantages and cost is closing, especially when you consider the time factor.

Owning your own plane remains the most exclusive, and in most cases, the most expensive option. It’s not just the millions that go into your initial purchase, it is the staffing, management, facilities access, maintenance and amenities that make the cost soar. Additionally, you have to choose the size and flight range of the aircraft for not just your most frequent destinations, but for any locations likely to be part of your travel itineraries. In short, you may have to go big and expensive, with all the accompanying costs, to fully enjoy the advantages of having your own plane. Even corporate America has become more discriminating as to whether owning is the best option, and the rules for expensing and use of such planes have become stricter.

Nevertheless, aircraft are different from cars. They have a longer lifespan, typically 25-30 years, and they can retain considerable value as the improvements from year to year tend to be minor compared to automobiles, for example. Though expensive, older aircraft can be retrofitted to accommodate technology improvements. Most younger aircraft today have all the latest in safety, comfort, and increasingly, secure communications and connectivity. So, if cost is not an issue and privacy and convenience are your chief considerations, owning may be the way to go. Bombardier would love to talk to you!

Next up, and the choice of many, is fractional jet ownership. You can find an array of competitors in this category offering plans structured to fit the needs of frequent, occasional and even minimal usage by the owner. NetJets, Inc., a subsidiary of Berkshire Hathaway, says on its website that its “shared ownership program means you can access the largest private fleet in the world—without experiencing the complexities of whole aircraft ownership.”*

Flying private can take the hassle out of travel and might even get you closer to your destination than commercial options

Flying private can take the hassle out of travel and might even get you closer to your destination than commercial options

How does fractional jet ownership work?

You buy into a particular aircraft, with certain guaranteed access rights or the right to substitute or upgrade or downgrade to other aircraft in the fleet depending on your needs. You share in the benefits of ownership, including depreciation of an asset, without all the costs of ownership. You pay certain fees and expenses based upon usage. The maintenance and coordination of the use of the aircraft is given to the service provider, removing much of the responsibility and headaches of ownership from your shoulders. The hope is that this becomes a much more cost effective and enjoyable way to meet your travel needs.

NetJets, for example, is so confident that their fractional jet ownership program will work for you, that they will buy back your share at the end of three years if you do not want to stay with them. They offer three distinct options: NetJets Share, NetJets Lease and Jet Card programs.

Jet Linx has a major presence in the D.C. area and falls into the next general category of private aviation companies. They operate and manage aircraft accepted into their program for members to use through their Jet Card programs. Unlike NetJets, Jet Linx does not own the aircraft. They differentiate themselves from others through the level of “concierge” service they provide, getting to know each client to be able to anticipate their needs and offer travel solutions that exceed their expectations.

Scott Clarey, Director of Jet Card Sales, sums it up perfectly: “You get a whole team that knows you personally, greets you as you arrive at our private, Dulles-based jet terminal, and who are individually committed to make your experience with us the best possible one.” Jet Linx’s website says: “With a personalized, local approach to service backed by the power of a national fleet, we’re able to give you a private travel experience that’s luxurious, convenient, and second to none.”**

Scott welcomes the opportunity to sit down with aircraft owners thinking about placing their aircraft with Jet Linx or anyone thinking about how private air travel might fit with their lifestyle and needs. He also wants to assure potential clients that Jet Linx meets the highest level of safety standards, guarantees the price and availability of their aircraft, and uses their own pilots fully trained on the aircraft. “You absolutely know what you are getting with us and can count on it.”

Today's cabins are equipped with comfort and ease in mind

Today’s cabins are equipped with comfort and ease in mind

There also are charter operators that have regular fleets and may or may not manage and lease aircraft on behalf of owners. Examples are Million Air and Martinair, and they offer their own unique package of programs to meet your needs. Million Air says: “We give you 24-hour access to private jet aircraft that are safe, secure and tailored to meet your specific needs and schedule. Through private charter, you can go wherever you want, whenever you want. You share the flight exclusively with the passengers of your choice.”***

When asked what he sees as the biggest competitor to his company, Clarey says charter brokers. Charter brokers connect customers with aircraft all over the world, for a price, but they accept no responsibility and do not provide any of the operations or maintenance of the aircraft. It’s a bit like calling a taxi based on their database of potential aircraft availability, location and timing. You may get a deal on price, but not the quality or level of service that you might be expecting. As with any field, some will be better than others. Clifton “Kip” Hayes, Vice President of Avjet Global, mentioned Air Partner as being a good resource for locating charter options.

Vince Groome of Groome Transportation, specializing in on-ground people transportation solutions, utilizes private aviation services for both business and personal travel. While acknowledging that it very much is still a luxury, he sees value that adds to his quality of life and efficiency on the job.

“If I want to retain a plane for a four-day weekend with six of my family or friends, I can fly from Richmond to Florida in a couple of hours, have the plane sitting on standby for when we are ready to leave, fly home, and it might cost all of us $15,000, or a little more than $2,000 apiece,” he says. “But, we get to enjoy all four days. It is seamless.”

As a busy businessman who might need to take his team of four or five to multiple cities, “We can visit all over Georgia in two days instead of four. And, we can leave when we want to and return as soon as time allows.” Groome owns a fractional share of an aircraft, but he appreciates that he can reserve and use a wide-range of aircraft that fit the exact needs of his travel plans. Above all, he values that, “My time is truly my time. I don’t waste any time traveling.”

Another advantage of private aviation is that many of the planes and fleets have access to more airports than commercial airlines that only can operate out of larger commercial facilities. Depending on where you are traveling, you can land much closer to your ultimate destination flying private.

So, if you’re contemplating squeezing in a ski trip to Wyoming or Colorado with those precious few days that are open on your calendar, private aviation allows you to maximize your time on the slopes while traveling with ease and comfort. Granted, for most people it only makes sense to be a jet card member or fractional owner if you travel a certain minimum number of hours a year and likely don’t travel alone. That’s when it’s good to have a friend who does! ML

* See www.netjets.com or call 1-877-356-5823

** See www.jetlinx.com or call 703-570-6900

*** See www.millionair-richmond.com or call 1-713-640-4000