Beating the Airlines: the Everyman’s Private Jet

Beating the Airlines: the Everyman’s Private Jet

Ready for a shock? There was a time when air travel used to be luxurious. Don’t laugh, there really was a time when passengers would look forward to flying – they could even bring their “dangerous weapons” on board – namely, shampoo and tweezers. Well-off travelers are still traveling in luxury on privately chartered flights, something out-of-reach for most – until Very Light Jets became an option.

Very Light Jets, or VLJs, are small, economical jets approved for single-pilot operations and generally carry between four and six passengers. For those who are unfamiliar with the private jet industry, VLJs are like a 40 mpg economy car debuting in a market of 8 mpg tanks.

For most travelers, going from point A to B – for example, Boulder to Dallas – means a 45 minute drive the airport, 60 to 90 minutes of  check-in and security delay, a 1 ½ hour flight, and another 20 to 30 minutes of delays at the destination airport to pick up baggage, rent a car, and so on. Then it’s the same routine for the return flight.

When time is a primary concern, VLJs begin to look very attractive. In an Eclipse 500, the top-selling VLJ thus far, the flight from Boulder to Dallas with four passengers would take just under 2 hours, with no security checks, ticket counter delays, parking fees for distant lots, and no unexpected flight cancellations.

The actual commute to the airport is much shorter as well. For a businessman in Boulder, the nearest airport suitable for VLJs is just 10 minutes away from the city center. Alternately, two other small airports are just 15 minutes away if the Boulder Municipal Airport won’t do. The jet can be airborne 15 minutes after the passengers’ arrival – their jet, their schedule.

Up to this point, everyone has known that chartering their own flights would be faster – but who can justify paying $10,000 to get there? The private jet industry has been gradually shifting away from exorbitant flight costs, but the VLJ takes a sudden jump. Before Eclipse Aviation announced its goal of building an extremely economic jet, the cheapest business jets to be found cost more than $1,000 an hour to operate and had price tags of about $3 million.

Compare those statistics to the statistics Eclipse Aviation recently published – flight costs per hour were listed at $193 (fuel, insurance, maintenance, etc). The acquisition cost is pretty low as well – a new Eclipse 500 sells for $1.5 million.

Even if the commute is drastically shorter, $1.5 million is still a lot to spend on a jet. Fortunately, the private jet industry isn’t just for millionaires – fractional jet ownerships and charter cards are becoming increasingly popular options for business travelers.

Compare the cost of flying four people from Boulder to Dallas and back on a first-class flight; the airlines quote $5,600. The same trip in the Eclipse 500 would total $772 (for fuel, maintenance, insurance, etc), plus any ownership-related costs. When compared side-by-side, the advantages of flying commercial become almost non-existent.

The main reason to fly commercial is distance. The VLJs have a fairly limited range – about 1,260 miles (1,100 nautical miles) is standard. So you can’t take the jet for those lonely commutes between Denver and Tokyo. But you could take it nonstop from Detroit to Houston , or from Las Vegas to Oklahoma City.

In short, VLJs make private jet travel economical, fast, and useful. While air travel becomes more and more accessible, VLJs such as the Eclipse 500 prove that it can be enjoyable, too – a fact that brokerage companies and business travelers alike are noticing.