Despite consolidation, the 25 largest Part 135 and 91K operators account for only 25% of the U.S. private jet market

Why you won’t find Wheels Up when you look at lists of private aviation operators

Sizing the U.S. private jet market between Part 91, Part 91K fractional and Part 135 charter operators

8 of the 10 largest companies are led by the founder or family member

Here’s a big difference between the private jet market and the airlines. Just 10 airlines account for 90% of the domestic market for scheduled passenger traffic. Four companies – Delta Airlines, American Airlines, United Airlines, and Southwest Airlines – are responsible for two-thirds of U.S. flights.

Despite consolidation, business aviation remains fragmented. An analysis by Private Jet Card Comparisons of various reports from Argus TRAQPak and other data shows the 25 largest operators of charter and fractional fleets together account for just 25% of all U.S. flying.

The four largest players – NetJets, Wheels Up Group, Directional Aviation, which includes Flexjet, and XOJET Aviation of Vista Global Holdings – account for 17.8% of flight hours.

In fact, 51.5% of U.S. flights are under Part 91. That’s flights by individual owners and companies where they aren’t allowed to accept compensation.

While NetJets is the biggest player by a factor of nearly three, you won’t find Wheels Up, one of the best known private aviation brands, on most publicly available lists. Yet it is the second-largest operator of flights flown for charter or fractional customers in the U.S.

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Biggest U.S. Private Jet Operators

(Part 135 and Part 91K)

Company/CategoryAnnual Flight Hours Part 135/     91K SharePart 135/ 91/91K
Share
Part 91 2,321,186 51.5%
Part 135 and Part 91K  2,184,958100.0%48.5%
1. NetJets (NetJets, Executive Jet Management)  459,18721.4%10.2%
2. Wheels Up (Gama Signature, Delta Private Jets, TMC Jets)     160,1617.5%3.6%
3. Directional Aviation/OneSky Flight (Flexjet, Flight Options, Sentient Jet, PrivateFly)     130,379 6.1%2.9%
4. Vista Global Holdings (XOJET, XO, VistaJet)        51,741 2.4%1.1%
5. Planesense        34,648 1.6%0.8%
6. Jet Linx Aviation         31,354 1.5%0.7%
7. Solairus Aviation         28,352 1.3%0.6%
8. Jet Edge         22,549 1.0%0.5%
9. Exclusive Jets (Fly Exclusive)         20,764 1.0%0.5%
10. Mountain Aviation         17,714 0.8%0.4%
11. Executive Flight Services (Airshare)         16,369 0.8%0.4%
12. Clay Lacy Aviation         16,026 0.7%0.4%
13. Jet Aviation         15,725 0.7%0.3%
14. Corporate Flight Management          12,7030.6%0.3%
15. Aero Air          12,125 0.6%0.3%
16. Talon Air          11,826 0.6%0.3%
17. JetSuite           10,9290.5%0.2%
18. Nicholas Air          10,0720.5%0.2%
19. Worldwide Jet Charter            9,3620.4%0.2%
20. LJ Associates            8,1960.4%0.2%
21. Red Wing Aeroplane            8,1430.4%0.2%
22. SC Aviation            7,6610.4%0.2%
23. Jet Access Aviation            7,6220.4%0.2%
24. Dumont Aviation            7,3880.3%0.2%
25. Ultimate Jet Charters            7,3540.3%0.2%
Source: Combined Argus TRAQPak 2019 largest Part 135 and Part 91K operators

Sentient Jet, which sells $300 million a year in jet cards, isn’t on the list either. Neither are names like Apollo Jets, Air Partner, Air Charter Service, Magellan Jets, OneFlight International, PrivateFly, Private Jet Services, or Victor, all private aviation brands that you often read about.

That’s because they are brokers. They don’t actually own or operate any private jets, even though they are major players in the market.

Why you won’t find Wheels Up on the list

Until June 2019, when Wheels Up started a buying spree, purchasing TMC Jets, it wasn’t an operator either, although it did own a fleet of King Air 350i, Citation XLS, and Citation X aircraft.

Those Wheels Up branded private aircraft that are seen every Saturday in the Fall on ESPN’s Game Day are owned by the company. However, it hired GAMA Aviation Signature to operate the fleet.

Earlier this year, it bought GAMA and closed on its acquisition of Delta Private Jets. So while Wheels Up is now the second-largest U.S. operator of private aircraft serving multiple customers (charter and fractional owners), you won’t see its name on any list. That’s because the certificates are held by TMC, DPJ, and Gama.

Still, figuring out how big the key players are isn’t necessarily transparent. Argus Traqpak splits data in three ways:

  • Part 91 for non-commercial flights. In other words, Elon Musk’s personal Gulfstream G650E or the IBM corporate flight department.
  • Part 135 is charter operators. That represents flights for on-demand private jet charters and jet card flights.
  • Part 91K is operators of fractionally owned aircraft.

And it’s not that straightforward. Argus classified Part 91K operators like NetJets and Flexjet also operate Part 135 flights. An aircraft’s designation changes based on whether it is flying a shareowner or jet card customer.

Argus, however, doesn’t break that out. In other words, all NetJets flights, even those under Part 135, are listed in the Argus data as part of NetJets’ total Part 91K flight hours.

With that in mind, we’ve taken the Argus Part 91K data and integrated Part 135 operators. We’ve then rolled up the data by corporate ownership to provide a ranked list of the Biggest U.S. Private Jet Operators. and also included a bit more about what they do, plus links to some of our recent coverage about them.

1. NetJets

Brands: NetJets, Excecutive Jet Management, QS Partners

Consumer Products: Used Aircraft Sales, Aircraft Management, Fractional Ownership and Leases; Jet Cards, On-Demand Charter

Founded 1964

NetJets is a wholly-owned subsidiary of Warren Buffett-lead Berkshire Hathaway. Beyond its eponymous brand of fractionally owned private jets, it also owns Executive Jet Management and QS Partners.

While NetJets on its own is the largest private jet operator in the world, Executive Jet Management ranks as the second-largest Part 135 operator, according to Argus.

Together, they clocked 459,187 flight hours in 2019. That represents 21.4% of the combined Part 135/91K market and 10.2% of the total U.S. market.

QS Partners is a used aircraft broker.

NetJets News

2. Wheels Up Group

Brands: Wheels Up, Delta Private Jets, Gama Signature Aviation, Travel Management Company (TMC) Jets, Avianis

Consumer Products: Aircraft Management, Jet Cards, Jet Memberships, On-Demand Charter, Jet Sharing, Empty Legs

Founded 2013

The second dance for Kenny Dichter, who launched Marquis Jet Partners before selling to NetJets in 2010, Wheels Up Group encompasses three of the nine largest Part 135 private jet operators: TMC Jets, acquired June 2019; Delta Private Jets, a deal that closed in January 2020, and most recently Gama Signature Aviation, finalized this past March. Delta Air Lines is the largest, although a minority shareholder.

Gama, on its own, was the biggest Part 135 operator in 2019 as ranked by Argus, clocking 103,096 hours. Delta Private Jets ranked fourth on the Part 135 list, and TMC Jets was 9th.

Now together under Wheels Up Group, with a combined 160,161 flight hours in 2019, the high-profile brand is the second-largest private aircraft commercial operator in the U.S.

Wheels Up has a 7.5% share of the Part 135/91K market and 3.6% of the total market.

Avianis, also acquired in 2019, is a B2B technology platform.

Wheels Up Group News

3. Directional Aviation/OneSky Flight LLC

Brands: Flexjet, Flight Options, Sentient Jets, PrivateFly, FXAIR, Corporate Wings, FlairJet, Sirio, Nextant Aerospace, Constant Aviation, Tuvoli

Consumer Products: Aircraft Management, Fractional Ownership and Leases, Jet Cards, Jet Memberships, On-Demand Charter, Empty Legs

Founded 1981

OneSky Flight LLC is Directional Aviation’s company that encompasses Flexjet, Flight Options, Sentient Jet, PrivateFly, and FXAIR, the latter three being brokers. Tuvoli is a B2B payment platform for charter brokers. Founded by Kenn Ricci, Directional also owns Nextant Aerospace, Constant Aviation, and companies focused on business aviation. In 2017, total group revenues were estimated at over $2.5 billion.

If you aren’t familiar with Flight Options, that’s because Directional has been winding it down, preferring instead to focus on the Flexjet label, a 2012 acquisition. Argus categorizes both under Part 91K since the majority of their flying is for fractional customers.

With 130,379 flight hours, OneSky Flight is the third-largest private jet operator on our list.

Adding in Sentient Jet and PrivateFly revenues

However, the group is bigger than those numbers suggest when it comes to selling private aviation travel solutions. Sentient sells around $300 million per year in jet cards, and PrivateFly is thought to be in the $50 million range.

You might ask, won’t that put Directional in front of Wheels Up Group? Hard to say. Wheels Up and Delta Private Jets book flights for customers off-fleet on non-company owned or affiliated operators as does NetJets.

In other words, while the Argus data shows flight hours by Part 135 and 91K operators, it doesn’t account for extra hours those companies are buying on other charter operators when their own fleets can’t fulfill customer demand.

Directional Aviation News

4. Vista Global Holdings

Brands: VistaJets, XO, XOJET Aviation, JetSmarter (dormant)

Consumer Products: Aircraft Management, Leases, Jet Cards, Jet Memberships, On-Demand Charter, Jet Sharing, Empty Legs

Founded 2004

Ranking Vista Global Holdings in fourth place is based on the flights of a company where it is a minority shareholder. The company is led by its founder and majority owner Thomas Flohr. Rhone Captial has been a consistent investor.

When Vista Global bought XOJET in 2018, it split the company in two. XO is the brokerage arm selling shared flights, jet cards, and on-demand charter. XOJET holds its Part 135 certificate. Since Vista Global Holdings is based in Dubai, as a non-U.S.-owned entity, it can only hold a minority stake in XOJET Aviation, the operator.

XOJET also operates about 15 VistaJet aircraft in the U.S. It’s not clear how much of their flying is in last year’s numbers. Prior to buying the XO brand, sister VistaJet used Jet Aviation to operates its N-registered (U.S.) tails. Only N-registered jets can be used for domestic flights with a few exceptions based on cabotage.

Either way, XOJET Aviation clocked 51,741 flight hours, good for fourth place on our list with a 2.4% share of the transient market, and 1.1% of the total U.S. market.

JetSmarter’s contribution

There’s more. Not counted are XO’s bookings onto other operators when it acts as a broker. XOJET brought to Vista Global an estimated $100 million in off-fleet bookings. JetSmarter, a 2019 acquisition, better known for seat sharing, also had a book of clients who charter the whole aircraft. Vista Global merged XOJET’s brokerage business with JetSmarter, rebranding them as XO last summer.

Also not part of our analysis: VistaJet is the industry’s most global operator. While second place Wheels Up Group and third-ranked Directional Aviation are mainly U.S. focused, VistaJet is bigger outside this country. In other words, if we were putting together a global list, Vista Global Holdings would be closer to Wheels Up Group and Directional than the next entrant.

Vista Global Holdings News

5. PlaneSense

Brands: PlaneSense

Consumer Products: Fractional Ownership and Leases

Founded 1995

New Hampshire-based PlaneSense offers fractional ownership and leases on a fleet Pilatus PC-24 and PC-12 aircraft. The Swiss-made private jet and turboprop are known for their short runway performance, including the ability to land on non-paved runways. The company has been moving its primary service area westward.

Its founder and CEO George Antoniadis, a former McKinsey consultant, continues to helm the company he started in 1995.

PlaneSense News

6. Jet Linx Aviation

Brands: Jet Linx Aviation

Consumer Products: Aircraft Management, Jet Cards, Jet Sharing, Empty Legs

Founded 1999

Omaha-based Jet Linx Aviation manages private jets, selling jet card time when owners aren’t using them. It operates private terminals in 19 markets available only to owners and jet card members.

Its high-touch service includes detailing your car while you are away and stocking your favorite libations in the lounge. When you return, your drive is valeted and read-to-go. In other words, you won’t have to find your car in the parking lot and clear off the snow.

In the past year, it added Austin, Boston, Chicago, and New York, and opened a second location in St. Louis at SUS.

The privately held company is run by CEO Jamie Walker, son of its founder.

Jet Linx Aviation News

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7. Solairus Aviation

Brands: Solairus Aviation

Consumer Products: Aircraft Management, Jet Cards, On-Demand Charter

Founded 2009

Solairus Aviation is one of only two Part 135 operators that publicly said they did not apply for CARES Act Relief, NetJets being the other. Its jet card offering provides 60-minute minimums across all categories from light to large cabin.

Privately-held Solairus is run by its CEO and founder Dan Drohan, an ATP-rated pilot with qualifications in multiple business jets and industry veteran.

Solairus Aviation News

8. Jet Edge International

Brands: Jet Edge, Jet Select

Consumer Products: Used Aircraft Sales, Aircraft Management, On-Demand Charter, Empty Legs

Founded 2007

You may very well have flown with Jet Edge, even if you aren’t familiar with the name. The company mainly sells through brokers, including jet card providers. It also operated a number of JetSmarter’s scheduled shuttle flights.

Earlier this year, it acquired Jet Select, LLC. According to the FAA, Jet Select has 20 of its aircraft on a Part 135 certificate. Since the operator is not on the Argus list of the Top 25 Part 135 operators, we know it clocked less than 7,354 on-demand and jet card flight hours in 2019. Since Jet Edge flew 22,549 hours, it’s possible adding Jet Select’s charter flights would be in our 7th slot.

Neither Jet Edge or Jet Select offer jet cards, making it one of only two players on our Top 10 to eschew memberships.

CEO Bill Papariella co-founded the privately held company. He is a veteran of NetJets, Marquis Jet Partners, and Sentient Jet.

Jet Edge News

9. FlyExclusive

Brands: FlyExclusive

Consumer Products: Aircraft Management, Jet Cards, On-Demand Charter

Founded 2014

FlyExclusive is Jim Segrave’s return to private aviation after selling Segrave Aviation to Delta Private Jets in 2010. With a fleet of nearly 60 private jets, earlier this year the company launched its first jet card program.

Mike Guina, who moved to Delta Private Jets after the sale of Segrave Aviation, returned to his former boss as president of FlyExclusive.

FlyExclusive News

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10. Mountain Aviation

Brands: Mountain Aviation

Consumer Products: Used Aircraft Sales, Aircraft Management, On-Demand Charter, Empty Legs

Founded 1993.

Privately held Colorado-based Mountain Aviation is led by CEO Gregg Fahrenbruch. It’s only one of two top 10 players that does not offer a jet card program.

Mountain Aviation News

Notable Private Jet Operators

Other companies on the Top 25 list offering jet cards, memberships, or fractional ownership include Airshare (11th), Clay Lacy Aviation (12th), Jet Aviation (13th), Nicholas Air (18th), and Dumont Aviation (24th).

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