Private jets are not just for celebrities

PUBLISHED : Monday, 26 May, 2014, 6:03am
UPDATED : Monday, 26 May, 2014, 6:03am


Once the preserve of the ultra-rich and celebrities, a flight on a private jet is now available for as little as €550 (HK$5,800) an hour, with technology and competition helping to bring down prices.

A growing number of firms offering such flights have emerged in recent years, some employing online facilities to match global demand, improving fleet efficiency and contributing to cheaper flights.

Adam Twidell, chief executive and founder of PrivateFly, said there were more than 500 operators and 2,500 individual aircraft in the European charter market alone, yet "over 30 per cent of flights are flying empty, repositioning for their next charter".

His company has been seeking to reduce these empty flights by going online to match demand.

Beyond the usual service of offering chartered flights, PrivateFly lists on its website what is known as "empty legs", which are trips from a certain destination at a fixed date, but at a price that could be as much as 75 per cent lower than standard rates.

The price listed for an "empty leg" flight on a seven-seater from Bristol to Cannes is £3,630 (HK$47,350), less than half the regular price of €8,730, according to the website.

"When we launched in 2008, many people told me that people would never book a private jet online, but I'm pleased to say that we have disproved this many, many times over," Twidell said.

In one booking last year, a client arranged an itinerary worth US$500,000 in Europe, which Twidell said demonstrated clients were comfortable using technology that provided them with benefits.

"Technology is playing a key role in matching supply and demand, driving more efficiency and giving the customer more transparency and greater cost-effectiveness, This is very important to today's private jet user and mirrors what has already happened in other travel sectors, such as airlines, hotels and car hire," he said.

WiJet is meanwhile positioning itself as a "taxi-jet airline".

It recently signed a deal with Air France to fly first-class passengers to their final destination. The price for the four-seater Citation Mustang used for such hops is €2,200 per flight hour, or €550 per passenger.

US billionaire Warren Buffett's NetJets was the first to see an opportunity in the niche market, offering partial plane ownership to those who did not want to buy a jet outright.

Launched in 1986, the company now has 700 planes in service, making it "the biggest fleet in the world, commercial airlines included", it said.

There are 3,700 partial owners and 3,900 others in the United States and Europe hold cards that entitle them to a certain number of flight hours every year.

Clement Lauriot-Prevost, NetJets associate director for Europe, said his company was not only a cost effective solution but also made operational sense.

"A plane is immobilised between one and three months a year for maintenance. When a plane has broken down, there is no other solution unless one owns a second plane," he said.

Aircraft makers are smiling as the trend grows.

Jean-Christophe Gallagher, of Bombardier, said it translated to more sales for aircraft makers.