If you fly commercial on a regular basis, especially to locations that aren’t major airline hubs, you already know that layovers and connecting flights can easily turn one trip into several smaller trips. For all of its conveniences, flying first class still puts you at the mercy of airline schedules, which is frustrating regardless of whether you’re traveling for business or for pleasure.
Most frequent fliers who make the switch from commercial to private do so to maximize their time. Flying private — be it through charter, membership or card programs or fractional programs — saves you the time and eliminates the hassle of getting to and from busy commercial airports, navigating TSA lines and waiting in the various lines associated with commercial flights. If you fly primarily for business, private aviation comes with the added bonus of enabling you to get more done while flying. Even the strongest Wi-Fi signal on a commercial flight can be spotty, which makes it difficult to stay in touch while flying to your destination. Privacy is another major benefit of private aviation. Privacy is an added luxury for those who fly for personal reasons but is indispensable for those who fly for business. Business professionals require the ability to use all of their time flying productively without having to worry about other passengers overhearing potentially sensitive conversations and information.
Once you decide to make the jump from first class to private aviation, how do you determine what type of aviation service or services is right for you? First and foremost, understand that a comparison of costs between commercial and private aviation is not viable due to the inability of commercial airlines to service the large number of airports that private aviation can utilize. That isn’t to say that flying private won’t save you money in the long run, though — having access to your own private plane can save time and money spent on things like transporting multiple staff, vendors or clients to and from business meetings. On the personal travel side, the total cost of buying multiple first class commercial tickets for all your family members may be close to the cost of private flight in some cases. Before taking the next step, you should be absolutely certain that making the transition from first class to private is financially feasible.
There are three main types of private aviation service: charter, membership or card programs and fractional programs.
Charter is similar to renting a car in that you have exclusive use of the aircraft for the duration of your trip. Membership or card programs require members to pay a one-time initiation fee, an annual membership fee and an additional fixed cost per hour, which is billed after each flight. With card programs, the customer has the option to either buy a dedicated number of hours on a specific aircraft type or have an account similar to a debit card where various aircraft sizes can be utilized at agreed to hourly rates. Both membership and card programs are best suited for those who fly 50 hours or less annually. Finally, fractional programs enable you to purchase or lease a percentage or fixed number of hours per year of a specific aircraft, pay a fixed monthly fee regardless of how much you fly and a fixed cost per hour for each flight flown. Fractional programs are best suited for those who fly 50 or more hours per year.
The key to determining which private aviation service or services is right for you is to work with a qualified aviation advisor who can review your projected travel requirements and help you figure out your options. Some consultants might try to sell you on certain options as part of the position they hold or agreements with certain providers even if it doesn’t realistically make sense for your situation. Should you decide to look more closely at private aviation, look for an advisor who will carefully consider your defined travel requirements, and then provide an unbiased assessment of the options available. With the right advisor, service and aircraft, you’ll be well on your way to saying goodbye to the hassle of flying commercial and enjoy the many benefits that private aviation has to offer.
Article by Lee Rohde, Founder, President and CEO of Essex Aviation, a business and private aviation aircraft acquisition and consulting firm, has 30+ years of experience in financial and operational analysis, manufacturing, distribution and corporate business development.