The High Life: why private jet travel is taking off once more

By Rory FH Smith | 06 May 2021 | Wealth, Travel
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Ever since Elvis Presley popularised private flight in the early 1960s with his Lockheed JetStar known as Hound Dog II, flying private has become synonymous with power, exclusivity and fame. Nothing says success quite like boarding your own PJ, does it?

The allure of skipping the queues at the check- in desk, shaking hands with the pilot and soaring off straight to your destination is hard to beat. But while these ultra-exclusive craft are usually the chosen method of travel for corporate executives and company CEOs as they crisscross the skies to make it to the next meeting, private jets are now becoming the ultimate holiday vehicle for ultra-high net worth travellers.

Shifting away from time-poor corporate chiefs, the use of private jets for tourism and leisure has risen dramatically in the past 12 months. “Before the pandemic, leisure flights accounted for approximately 60% of NetJets’ flights, and business flying was at about 40%,” says a spokesperson for American private jet seller NetJets. “Currently, leisure and business travel constitute 80% and 20%, respectively. Leisure flying has eclipsed its pre-pandemic levels thanks to new entrants who were previously flying commercial or with competitors, but have come to realise that the ultimate luxury is peace of mind.”

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This lean towards leisure travel isn’t entirely unexpected. After commercial flights almost ground to a complete halt this time last year and the majority of meetings went online, the demand for business flying plunged as bookings for repatriation and holidays soared. For those on the edge of affording private travel, the idea of sitting in a cramped cabin with over 500 people, in an age dominated by infection fears and touchpoint paranoia, convinced many to spend a little more when it comes to their holiday.

“When you fly commercially, there are typically 700 touch points on every flight, whereas a private jet traveller will typically experience fewer than 50,” says Roland Dangerfield, a former British Army Officer turned commercial aviation pilot and owner of Sentinel Aviation. “Using small, private VIP terminals means you interact with fewer people, further reducing exposure to health risks and they also allow for relaxation before a flight compared to the hustle and bustle of big terminals.”

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THE WORLD AWAITS

But the pandemic isn’t the only reason private jets are fast becoming the ultimate vehicle for high days and holidays. As private flight has become more accessible over time, new products, experiences and even industries have come to market, making the prospect all the more enticing.

“The allure of flying by private jet is undeniable and where this was once the domain of only UHNWs, over the past decade it’s become increasingly accessible with the growth in charter, fractional, membership and block hours programs,” says Pascal Bachmann, SVP Europe, Jetcraft.

With more people gaining access to the world of private aviation, tour operators such as Roar Africa have teamed up with Emirates’ private jet arm to launch super-exclusive packages powered by private jets. Roar Africa’s latest tour starts onboard Emirates’ A319, which takes no more than 10 people on a private safari. The same size as a commercial aircraft, the A319 boasts ten suites with a private shower and powder room. Starting from just short of £100,000 per person, the 12-day trip covers four of the continent’s greatest landmarks, using the jet as a means to travel between them.

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While super safaris and exclusive itineraries make the private jet life all the more alluring, some of the world’s most enticing beauty spots have restricted access to private jets only during the pandemic. When mass tourism stopped overnight, some savvy nations spotted an opportunity to attract the wealthy private jet set during the global lockdowns.

The Cayman Islands, Fiji and Botswana were some of the countries that closed to mass tourism but remained open to charters, making private jets the only option for those seeking a holiday there. Despite appearing to be at odds with the idea of a lockdown, it’s a well thought- through strategy as industry website Private Jet Card Comparisons points out, the average spend per passenger on a private-jet arrival is more than 50 times that of a commercial passenger. »

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SUPERSONIC LUXURY

“With commercial airline schedules disrupted to near extinction, the value of private aviation has been further realised and, in some areas of the world, has become more attractive to first- time users,” says Bachmann. “Throughout the pandemic, we’ve seen many first-time buyers purchase pre-owned, well-priced midsize and long-range models such as the Dassault Falcon 2000S and 7XS, the Gulfstream G280 and G650 and the Bombardier Challenger and Global series... ultimately, private aviation offers flexibility and control.”

Since the early days of Elvis’s 1960s JetStar – the world’s first business jet – the technology in the air has moved on considerably, making private aviation more efficient, faster and, ultimately, more attractive and accessible. Had the supersonic airliner Concorde still been in service, it would have been celebrating 45 years of flying 100 passengers at twice the speed of sound. But when it was mothballed in 2003, private jets became the next best thing for those wanting to hop off for a quick break at a moment’s notice.

“Aircraft are now flying longer and longer ranges and at faster and faster speeds – Bombardier’s Global 7500 set the city-pair record between New York and London of five-hours and 26-minutes,” says Dangerfield. “You can now fly from Sydney to Detroit, non-stop, which is 8,255 nautical miles. The first prototype supersonic business jets are just a few years away – the age of supersonic private jets is just dawning.”

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Of course, the return to supersonic flight comes at a cost – the Mach 2-capable Aerion AS2 jet is priced at $120m (£87m) and slated to begin production in 2023. With an order backlog of over $10bn (£7.25bn) already, it seems the appetite for super-fast private flight is stronger than ever.

As the supersonic private jet age approaches, the number of possible holiday destinations that fall within reach for the global, time-poor elite increase significantly. From day trips to New York, to a weekend dash to Delhi, it’s no wonder ideas of next-generation private jets are proving popular to global travellers.

But whether you’re flying for business or pleasure, the main benefit of a private jet is neither the sumptuous interior nor the exclusivity factor, but undoubtedly the timesaving. “Aircraft ownership affords the UNHW traveller time and flexibility that no other form of transport can,” says Bachmann. “When we sell a private jet, the most valuable asset we’re selling our client is time.”

For those with barely a break in their calendar all year, time is everything. Paying a premium for fast and effective travel to and from a destination isn’t a luxury, it’s essential. Advances in technology and an increasing appetite for exclusive exploration, set against a backdrop of a global pandemic has seen the use of private jets for leisure surge beyond all expectations in the past 12 months.

With flight only scheduled to get faster and more efficient in the years to come, time will tell if the trend continues to rise in a post-pandemic world. For now, at least, be sure to book your next private jet adventure well in advance – the queues outside the private terminals are already starting to build.

netjets.com; sentinel-aviation.com; jetcraft.com; roarafrica.com