The Best Five Options To Fly Privately

Amid the pandemic, some families, businesses, and individuals have made a flight to safety by traveling again or for the first time on private jets.

As commercial airlines attempt to fill seats amid the COVID-19 pandemic, some families, businesses, and individuals have made a flight to safety by traveling again or for the first time on private aircraft.

These travelers set their own schedules and itineraries for on-demand business or personal flights. They can travel to about 5,300 public-use airports in the U.S., roughly 10 times the number available to commercial aircraft. International airport access expands the flexibility to travel globally. Travelers greatly value the time savings, healthy and safe environment, comforts, and convenience of flying privately.

Flying Privately for the First Time

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Flying Privately for the First Time

Business aviation may be easier to navigate than you think.

Although the reasons to fly privately may be obvious, especially in the age of COVID-19, deciding how to do so isn't easy. Three modes of aircraft travel—chartering, jet or fractional cards, and membership programs—involve no capital investment. Each of these options offers benefits for new and some repeat flyers. Two other options for frequent flyers—purchasing a whole airplane or a fractional share in one—do require capital investment.

Before choosing from these five types of private aircraft travel, you should consider the following factors:

Your Flight Profile
Identify the right aircraft for your flight profile. In general, a flight profile covers logistics, operating hours, amenities, connectivity, catering, luggage/storage capacity, number of passengers, and travel distance. One program or aircraft size might not fit all your travel needs.

Manager, Operator, and Pilot Safety Records
Insist that the aircraft operator, manager, and pilots have stellar safety records. The operator should supply a top-flight team, including experienced pilots who have been approved by the operator’s insurer. Managers, operators, and pilots should be free of enforcement actions by, or violation notices from, the FAA. Ask them.

Aircraft Condition
Confirm whether the aircraft complies with its manufacturer’s maintenance and regulatory requirements. The aircraft should also present a well-maintained appearance.

COVID-19 Protocols
Verify that the aircraft manager, commercial operator, and FBO have implemented a robust COVID-19 safety protocol for ground personnel, passengers, and crew, including health screening, social distancing, and personal protective equipment.

Insurance Coverage
Require that the aircraft manager or commercial operator provide written evidence of comprehensive liability insurance to protect you despite the tightening insurance markets.

Besides considering the above factors, you need to evaluate which of the following access methods best suits you. 
Use business aviation experts, including brokers, technical consultants, and aviation lawyers, to assist you with this decision. Among your options:

Air Charter

A charter is simply an ad hoc private transportation service that is available by the seat or whole aircraft. Charter makes the most sense for occasional and new flyers, including those seeking a healthy and safe travel environment during the pandemic. Although more complicated, a charter is like taking a taxi. In legal terms, charter operators engage in air commerce by carrying people or property for compensation or hire. 

Perhaps the simplest question you should ask yourself about charter and other options is: What kind of aircraft do I need to satisfy my top priorities, and how much can I afford to spend to fly privately? Charter rates can easily climb from approximately $1,200 to $12,000 per hour or more, depending on the size, type, and range of the aircraft selected.

Though charter is not inexpensive, rates have dropped since 2019. Also, Congress approved an excise tax holiday in the CARES Act that suspends the 7.5 percent excise tax on amounts paid to charter operators from March 28, 2020, to Dec. 31, 2020.

Cost transparency is sometimes challenging in the charter world. You should ask for receipts detailing charges on your accounts, watch for overlapping charges, and tie the charges to final invoices. You should also compare operator fleet sizes and business models.

One persistent legal and safety concern arises from illegal charter operations. Broadly speaking, illegal charters occur when the aircraft operator or pilot conducts operations without proper certification or fails to comply with applicable safety regulations. Illegal charters have ensnared frequent and occasional travelers.

Look for red flags such as an operator asking you to sign short-term leases or timesharing agreements. As a result of these regulatory violations, the FAA has, in coordination with the business aviation industry, stepped up its enforcement actions against operators and warned pilots to shun illegal charter operations.

Membership Programs
Fee-paying members typically have access to private aircraft for a set number of hours—typically 25 to 100 per year. Program terms, aircraft fleets, and quality vary widely, as does pricing for membership and flights. Before joining a program, you should compare offerings of operators that have developed creative ways to travel at a predictable cost.

Jet and Fraction Cards
Jet and fraction cards cost more than most other aircraft travel options and work like prepaid credit cards that you use to pay for 25 to 100 or more flight hours. The cards enable you to dip a toe into private aviation. Card amounts vary, starting as low as $25,000 and perhaps lower in this changing segment. These cards and other options can provide supplemental lift to enhance travel flexibility.

Whole Aircraft Ownership or Leasing
Buying or leasing a whole aircraft often makes sense once you anticipate using at least 200 flight hours per year and want to control the use, customization, operational control, repair facilities, crewing, base location, and availability of the aircraft. However, many people acquire aircraft knowing they will need fewer hours but expecting to charter the aircraft to offset fixed costs.

Before deciding whether to buy a whole aircraft, you should determine whether bonus depreciation and other tax benefits may be available and structured to reduce your after-tax cost of ownership and operations. Financing is widely available for aircraft at historically low rates. It is important to use aviation experts here as purchase, sale, financing, or leasing transactions are often complex.

Fractional Share Ownership
Fractional ownership is simpler than owning or leasing a whole aircraft. An owner or lessee of a fractional share typically commits to a five-year program. A fraction usually corresponds to a certain number of annual flight hours, often ranging from 25 to 300, though some programs instead provide a certain number of travel days instead of flight hours. Fractional programs charge monthly management and per-hour flight fees, differ in quality, and provide highly personalized service. Bonus depreciation and/or other federal tax benefits might be available, as with whole aircraft. A few banks will lease or finance a fractional share.

COVID-19 has boosted demand to fly by private aircraft, especially charter services. Perhaps this demand foretells a new era of sustainable growth in private aircraft travel as people realize that these flights not only save time but might also save lives.