It may seem like owning a private plane is the pinnacle of personal luxury, but many of those who can afford to do so are actually opting out. Over the past few years, fractional private jets have become more appealing to the ultra-rich, Bloomberg reported on Wednesday. Operators of such jets saw a 5.2 percent increase in flights this year through September, according to the industry analysis firm WingX. And in the past four years, the growth of fractional flights has outpaced that of both charter flights and corporate-owned jets.
“Some people moved up into fractional programs, some people moved down,” Richard Koe, the managing director of WingX, told Bloomberg. “The result is you’ve got these operators doing better than ever.”
What Koe means is that some wealthy travelers tried out charter flights during the pandemic, and now they’ve upgraded to fractional ownership, which gives them a bit more access to and flexibility with flights. Meanwhile, some business travelers are looking for more privacy, and they’ve slightly downgraded to fractional jets as a way to avoid scrutiny by those who track corporate jets.
The fractional ownership model allows someone to buy as little as 1/16th of a plane in exchange for flying time. For example, a mid-size Challenger 3500 may charge $1.7 million for that share and offer 50 hours of flight time a year. On top of that, there would be a fee of $20,000 per month and a cost of $6,000 per hour of flying, Nick Copley, the president of the luxury website Sherpa Report, told Bloomberg. While that may be a steep total for some, the companies behind fractional jets deal with all the extraneous needs of owning a plane, including pilots, maintenance, insurance, fuel, and hangar space. With direct ownership, those costs could range from $700,000 to $4 million, according to Vault Aviation data cited by Bloomberg.
During the pandemic, in particular, many travelers opted for private travel as a way to avoid crowded airports and fly at their leisure. While demand for some fractional companies has dipped since the height of the pandemic, they’re still seeing an increase in interest. In fact, groups like Flexjet and NetJets have waitlists for people looking to grab a piece of the plane.
“It’s like trying to get into a country club and they tell you, ‘Sorry, we have a waiting list,’” Kenn Ricci, who owns Flexjet and other private-plane companies, told Bloomberg. “Well, that’s the club you want to get into.”
And once you make it in, you can say bye-bye to long security lines and middling airport food.