In 1999, Bombardier introduced a new type, the Challenger 300, as part of the growing "super-midsize" private jet class. The Challenger 300 – and later Challenger 350, introduced in 2013 – competes with aircraft including the Cessna Citation X and Gulfstream G280. The Challenger 350 carries passengers 3,200 nautical miles non-stop at a cruise speed of Mach 0.80, and features the widest, purpose-built super midsize aircraft cabin with both a flat floor, and in-flight baggage access.
Ms. Broder frequently books private jets for clients and gets a weekly list from several private jet companies of empty leg availability for the coming week (other agents specializing in private jet travel also get similar lists). Recent flights included an $8,500 trip from Naples to Cleveland on a Beechjet 400A, a plane that seats seven people, and a $6,500 trip from Scottsdale, Ariz., to Colorado Springs on a Learjet 45XR, accommodating eight fliers.
How can these and other similar companies afford to offer such low rates? One reason is that sites like JetSuite.com are offering seats on flights that would have been empty or at least not full. “Over 40% of flights that are flying private have empty seats,” says Steve King, the co-founder of private jet charter company AeroIQ. Many times, these flights are simply repositioning so they can pick up passengers in another city and the companies would rather get some money from passengers than no money.
Companies like Surf Air and FLITE Air Taxi can charge less than big-name competitors, in part, because they use different planes — like, for example, single-prop turbo planes — that cost less to operate because they use less fuel than larger jets. “The operational cost can be a fraction of other planes,” says Justin Hart, vice president of Surf Air memberships.
Members who want to set their own schedule can create a flight and post it to JetSmarter’s app so that other interested members can buy seats for the route and help reduce the cost of the charter; if all the seats on the plane sell, the member who created the flight flies for free. These crowdsourced trips usually top out at $2,000 a person, a fraction of the $8,000 or more per hour it can cost for a traditional charter. “My goal is to make private jet flying less elitist,” Mr. Petrossov said.
Meredith Broder, an adviser with the Villanova, Pa., travel company Avenue Two Travel, said that empty leg flights have changed the private jet game. “Rather than have the plane fly empty, air companies or private jet brokers try to sell that route at a discount,” she said. “This strategy helps with fuel costs and puts private jet flying within reach to people who wouldn’t normally be able to afford this luxury and convenience.”
JetSmarter, around since 2013, is an example of a player in the private aviation space selling shared flights. The company operates on a membership model: Fliers pay a minimum of $15,000 a year and book seats on already scheduled flights through the JetSmarter app, which lists more than 150 domestic and international trips a day. Trips under three hours are included in the cost of the membership while longer ones are an average of $300 a person, according to Sergey Petrossov, the company’s chief executive officer; most flights have an average of eight to 10 passengers.
Cessna simultaneously developed the Citation Mustang, a six-place twinjet (2 crew + 4 passengers), followed by the Embraer Phenom 100 and the Honda Jet. They have a maximum takeoff weight lighter than the FAR Part 23 12,500 pounds limit, and are approved for single-pilot operation. They typically accommodate 5-7 passengers over a 965 nmi average range, with a $3.6M mean price. Some VLJs such as the Eclipse and Mustang have no or limited lavatory facilities.
An affinity charter is slightly different in that, although all of the passengers are affiliated with a specific business, group or organization, each pays his own air fare. The passengers might sports or music fans traveling to a special event, or a bunch of friends going on vacation. With this type of charter, none of the seats can be sold to members of public.
Aircraft charter brokers have entered the marketplace through the ease of setting up a website and business online. Aircraft charter operators are legally responsible for the safe operation of aircraft and charter brokers require no economic authority and are largely unregulated. The Department of Transportation requires that air charter brokers disclose to the consumer that they do not operate aircraft and cannot use terms like "our fleet of aircraft", "we operate", "our charter service" and others.