Once the preserve of the ultra-rich and celebrities, a flight on a private jet is now available for as little as 550 euros an hour, with technology and competition helping to bring down sky-high prices.
A growing number of firms offering such flights have emerged in recent years, some employing online facilities to match global demand, thereby improving fleet efficiency and contributing to cheaper flights.
Adam Twidell, chief executive and founder of PrivateFly, said there are more than 500 operators and over 2,500 individual aircraft in the European charter market alone, yet “over 30 percent 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 jet flights, PrivateFly lists on its website what is known as “empty legs” — a trip from a certain destination at a fixed date, but at a price that can be as much as 75 percent lower than regular rates.
The price listed for a “empty leg” flight on a 7-seater from Bristol to Cannes is 3,630 pounds, less than half the regular price of 8,730 euros, 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,” said Twidell.
In one single app booking last year, a client booked an itinerary worth $500,000 in Europe, which Twidell said demonstrated clients are comfortable using technology that provides them 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 added.
WiJet is meanwhile positioning itself as an “taxijet airline”.
It has recently signed a deal with Air France to fly first class passengers to their final destination. The four-seater Citation Mustang used for such hops are going at 2,200 euros per flight hour — or 550 euros per passenger.
Warren Buffett’s NetJets was the first to see an opportunity in the niche market, offering partial plane ownership to those who do 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.
Some 3,700 people are partial owners and 3,900 others in the United States and Europe are holders of cards that entitle them to a certain number of flight hours every year.
Clement Lauriot-Prevost, NetJets associate director for Europe, said his company is not only a cost effective solution but also makes sense operations wise.
“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.
Olivier Villa, director of programmes for French aircraft maker Dassault Aviation, meanwhile said the concept of partial ownership also allows “new clients to access business aviation and to appreciate its benefits before moving towards acquisition of full ownership.”
Aircraft makers are smiling as the trend to popularise jets grows.
Jean-Christophe Gallagher, Bombardier’s vice president for marketing of commercial aviation, said it translates to far greater sales for aircraft makers.
After all, an individual client would likely buy just one jet whereas such chartered flight companies would order dozens at a shot.
In November 2012 for instance, VistaJet ordered 56 aircraft from Bombardier at a cost of $3.1 billion. That order came after the Canadian aircraft manufacturer signed a deal to sell 100 planes to NetJets for $2.3 billion.