A Look at Fractional Jet Ownership
By Jonas Elmerraji
We’ve all experienced it – the commercial flight. After a mad dash to make it to the airport on time, including the hours allotted for getting through security, where you’ll have to take off your shoes, empty your pockets, and prove that your laptop is not a bomb, you sit and wait for a couple hours before they decide to start boarding, and give you the privilege of sitting in the cramped seat that you paid a couple hundred dollars for.
The mega-rich have always had the option of private aircraft available to them. If you’re Donald Trump, you can think nothing of equipping yourself with a Boeing 727 that costs probably close to $50 Million (not including the costs of pilots, flight attendants, support staff, insurance, fuel, maintenance, etc.). For others, however, the idea of a private jet has been outside the realm of possibility. An exciting concept in private aviation, however, is allowing private jet travel to make more sense for those who have seriously considered it as a possibility.
Fractional jet ownership is a fairly new concept. It is based on the idea that an individual can purchase a fraction of a plane, and pay management and operation fees to a company that will be responsible for safety, pilot training, hiring of crew, and all those other things that you don’t want (or wouldn’t know how) to deal with. Fractional ownership can substantially cut the costs of owning your own aircraft.
Fractional jet ownership is provided by a number of companies, including Cessna’s CitationShares, Bombardier’s Flexjet, and NetJets, the company that started the trend. As consumer interest in fractional jet ownership has increased, so has the competition between these companies. CitationShares and Flexjet are owned by aircraft manufacturers, their respective fleets composed mainly (if not entirely) of the planes they make. NetJets, on the other hand features a broader spectrum of aircraft, and is the industry leader. As such, that’s who we’ll be focusing on today.
It is true that the fractionals substantially cut the costs related to owning an aircraft. That’s not to say that private jet ownership is for everyone, however. The primary target of the fractionals consists of those who have considered owning (or sharing) a jet, but found the arrangements too complicated or expensive to justify, as well as those who are used to first class air travel, but want to make a step up. The fractionals are also an attractive deal for mid-sized companies who need the convenience of a private aircraft without the premium price. According to NetJets’s website, purchasing a 1/8 share in a Raytheon Hawker 400XP would set you back $793,750 plus a $10,582 monthly maintenance fee, and an hourly charge of $1,501. That 1/8 share works out to about 100 occupied hours per year. Yeah, it’s expensive, but when you consider the price of seven first class tickets from New York to Miami, it suddenly becomes more reasonable. In fact, as a little experiment, I attempted to get the price on such a flight on very short notice. NetJets claims that your plane will be waiting on the tarmac within 6-12 hours notice. With a commercial carrier, I was unable to find a next-day flight, I was unable to find first class seating, and on one airline, I was informed that a return flight wouldn’t be available until a week after the date I requested. If short notice flights are commonplace in your life, NetJets offers the solution.
Let’s say, however, that you aren’t interested in a small aircraft like the 400XP. What if you want something that can fly from New York to London non-stop? Well, just step into one of NetJets’s large cabin aircraft. If you are lucky enough to afford these multi-million dollar jets, you will enjoy the highest degree of luxury. The Gulfstream 550, for example, is the latest and greatest in Gulfstream’s line of long-haul private aircraft. Aboard, you will find a satellite telephone, video monitors, a DVD entertainment system, data ports, a fax machine, and whatever else you need to run your operations (or enjoy some well-deserved down time) at 30,000 ft. Naturally, the Gulfstream 550 also offers a full service galley, as well as a flight attendant for you and 13 others.
The final frontier in fractional ownership is the Boeing Business Jet (BBJ). If you’ve ever flown on Boeing’s popular line of 737 airliners, you know how big the BBJ is. That’s because the BBJ is actually a gutted 737, which is then outfitted with the latest in in-flight luxury. In fact, the BBJ is even available with a boardroom, bedrooms, and a shower. Yeah….. a shower. Nothing says success like the ability to roll out of bed, take a shower, eat a nice breakfast – all while you cut through the air at 528 mph. If the $50,000,000.00 price tag (full price) is a little disturbing, owning a fraction with NetJets can take a large chunk out of it.
Fractional shares start at 1/16 of a share, which can be as low as $369,875 in a Hawker 400XP. That’s 50 hours of flying time. For those who don’t want the commitment (or the cost) of buying a fraction, NetJets has implemented a lower-cost solution that they call the Marquis Jet Card. The Marquis Jet Card starts at $109,900 for 25 hours in a Cessna Citation V. With the Marquis Jet Card, required notice jumps up to 10 hours, which is still much better than anything the airlines can offer. The card offers the convenience of chartering an aircraft, with the peace of mind that you get from NetJets’s safety standards. Other fractional carriers also have prepaid jet cards, so this is a [somewhat] affordable solution for those who don’t want to deal with the monthly or upfront costs of ownership.
If you decide that fractional ownership is for you, be warned, you should thoroughly investigate the pilot training, safety procedures, aircraft, and management services that each company offers before making a decision. The big three, NetJets, CitationShares, and Flexjet, offer excellence in each, but some newer fractional start-ups may not be up to snuff. Remember that your security and safety is paramount, and if you feel that it’s inadequate with a particular company, take your business elsewhere. If you’re serious about making a fractional jet purchase, and live nearby to their operations, don’t hesitate to ask for a tour of their aircraft and facilities, they should be more than happy to accommodate you. Many fractional operators hold regular events around the country in which prospective buyers can take a look around the aircraft and the service that they offer.
Fractional jet ownership offers the best of luxury, security, and functionality without the premium total ownership requires. If you’ve been considering buying or chartering private aircraft, fractional ownership just may be for you.