Backed by record demand and with no letup in sight, operators from NetJets to niche brokers are announcing ambitious fleet growth targets
Private jet fleet capacity has become one of the industry’s hottest issues. Demand for private aircraft, owned, via charters, jet cards, and fractional shares, continues to surge to record levels. Charter and jet card flights tracking 30% higher than 2019 pre-pandemic levels combined with owners flying their jets more is putting a strain on the system. Supply chain and labor issues impacting the greater economy are impacting the private aviation industry. It’s creating a new reality for private jet flyers.
One subscriber recently wrote me, “I put out a bid on FlyEasy last Friday for this Wednesday from Dallas to Detroit and got two quotes back—one on a King Air 350 and the other a Cessna M2. I used to get 20 to 30, so that says it all to me. My jet card is saving me again, and I’ve never minded going off (jet) card (to get better deals).”
In fact, jet card salespeople have switched their pitches from safety and price to availability. Large companies say smaller players won’t have the clout to get you a jet on short notice. Small companies say big companies have too many customers to accommodate. So far, I haven’t seen that happen. Programs with guaranteed availability seem to be making things work. It’s still a good reason to book in advance.
Ways private jet fleets are growing
The industry’s answer, in part, seems to be slowing sales and adding capacity to the market. The capacity is coming in four ways:
- Delivery of new jets from manufacturers like Embraer, Gulfstream, Bombardier, and Textron
- Acquisition of used aircraft
- Increasing managed fleets via new customers who then allow their aircraft to be offered on the charter market
- Large operators going off-fleet and large brokers are buying blocks of time from other operators for days and weeks at a time instead of flight by flight. The latter is referred to as GRPs, short for Guaranteed Revenue Programs.
We surveyed operators, and key brokers that offer jet cards and memberships, and where relevant, included FAA fleet data. The rankings are based on our list of the 30 largest private jet operators tracking fractional and charter flight hours through June. Here’s how the companies are planning to meet the record demand.
NetJets (Ranked 1st)
After adding 25 new jets to its fleet since the beginning of the year, NetJets, the world’s largest operator of private jets, says it will add 100 more airplanes by the end of next year. It tabs the investment at $2.5 billion. That’s good news for Embraer, Bombardier, and Textron, who make those jets.
As of August, there were 100 Phenom 300s, 85 Challenger 350s, 83 Latitudes, and 76 Citation XLSs out of the 11 types it operates. NetJets is due to take its first Global 7500 in 2022. The FAA registry in August listed 432 aircraft on the NetJets certificate.
Still, the unit of Berkshire Hathaway pulled the plug on its jet card sales for the time being as it copes with demand.
We believe one reason for the lack of card inventory is that fewer shareowners are selling their slices back after their five-year term expires. Instead, they are renewing for another five years. Inventory for jet cards at fractional operators typically comes from shares they buy back from owners. It would be another sign that the private aviation rebound has legs.
Its management and charter arm Executive Jet Management also suspended sales of its Ascend fixed-rate membership program. It has an additional 132 aircraft on its Part 135 certificate. That would give NetJets, Inc. a U.S.-based fleet of 564 aircraft.
Of course, not all sales are stopped. NetJets continues to sell shares and leases, and EJM is still quoting on-demand charter flights.
NetJets and EJM officials haven’t shed any light on when the programs will restart; however, NetJets is offering waitlist joiners the pricing when it stopped sales. There is no cost to be on the waitlist.
Directional Aviation – Flexjet, Sentient Jet (2)
Directional Aviation, second on our list of 30 biggest charter and fractional operators, is busy, too. Its Flexjet unit is doubling its fleet of Gulfstream G650s. It is also accelerating deliveries of new jets in general.
By the end of the year, it expects to take delivery of more than 20 aircraft this year, including Phenom 300s, Praetor 500s – for the U.S. – and 600s – for the EU), Challenger 350s, and Gulfstream G650s.
That’s not all. Last year, Directional announced instead of selling aircraft retired from the Flexjet fractional fleet, it would refurbish and continue to operate the jets, making them available for customers of its jet card unit, Sentient Jet, and FXAIR, its on-demand brokerage. That move brought a dozen Challenger 300s and five Global Express large-cabin jets. A spokesperson now puts that fleet at 30 aircraft.
As of August, the FAA lists 162 aircraft on Flexjet related certificates.
Sentient Jet, which racked up $450 million in jet card sales last year, has long prepurchased blocks of flight time from third-party operators. Those blocks, we believe, are typically several days or a week. Having scheduling control gives added flexibility to accommodate customers.
“Sentient continues to work with its certified operator network to pre-purchase hours as well as leverage the spot market where needed. We don’t disclose the count here, partly because it fluctuates,” says Sentient CEO Andrew Collins.
The company recently moved its non-peak call-out from 10 to 24 hours and increased hourly rates for light, midsize, and super-midsize jets. Hourly rate increases ranged from 1.7% (light jets) to 5.1% (midsize jets). Earlier this summer, both Sentient and FXAIR dropped their coast-to-coast rate cap of $31,900 on super mids.
Meanwhile, Directional’s Halo unit, after buying two helicopter operators, ordered 200 Eve eVTOLs that are due to enter service by 2026. The futuristic rotorcraft will initially serve Flexjet, Sentient Jet, FXAIR, PrivateFly customers, transferring them between their private flights to London and New York City city centers.
Wheels Up (3)
Wheels Up, which recently went public, is expanding its capacity for member flights, buying more time on third-party operators. Instead of chartering on a flight-by-flight basis, one-third of its off-fleet flying is now part of guaranteed rate programs.
Under the scheme, it essentially rents the jets for anywhere from one day to a year, giving it exclusive use for its customers. According to its Analysts’ Day presentation last year, 25% of Wheels Up’s $488 million in flight revenues were off-fleet.
During its presentation to analysts, it said it is also offering incentives to owners of the jets it manages through its acquisitions of Delta Private Jets, MountaVistain Aviation, and Gama Aviation Signature. The goal is to have the aircraft owners increase the availability of their airplanes for Wheels Up member flights.
Its CFO Eric Jacobs said it might acquire aircraft as well. It also wants to increase its King Air 350i fleet’s utilization, clocking just 30 hours per aircraft per month coming into this year.
Currently, Wheels Up lists 258 aircraft available for charter via Gama Aviation (123), Wheels Up Private Jets (75), and Mountain Aviation (60). As of June, 169 were owned or leased by Wheels Up.
Vista Global Holding – VistaJet, XO (4)
Vista Global Holding ranked fourth on our list of fractional and charter operators, reaffirmed plans to grow its Red Wing Aviation fleet from around 15 light jets to more than 50 by the end of 2022. It is also launching an XO branded Citation XLS fleet in Europe later this month. It also adds Excels to its XO U.S. program fleet.
In April, it said it is adding over $1 billion in new Global 7500s and Challenger 350s by the end of next year. That means a dozen of the ultra-long-haul jets and 10 of the best-selling super-midsize aircraft.
According to August FAA data, the current Vista Global fleet with U.S.-registered N-tails stands at 110 aircraft, including 58 by XOJET Aviation, 31 by Talon Air, and 21 by Red Wing Aviation. It has approximately 180 aircraft worldwide.
In coping with demand, last week, its XO brokerage extended the non-peak call-out for its fixed-rate Elite Access program to 72 hours from 24 hours. It also ended its 3.5-hours rate cap on the Challenger 300 and limited the cap for the Citation X to the Continental U.S. Rates were also bumped up by 7.5% across the board. It doesn’t have a large fixed-rate cabin program.
As of June, it had 72 aircraft in the fleet, of which four are identified as Gulfstream GIV-SPs, 10 Citation Xs, 5 Citation Sovereigns, 33 Citation Excel/XLSs, 7 Citation CJ3s, and 10 Encores. The company expects to be close to 100 by the end of the year, owner Jim Segrave tells us.
Its aircraft ownership and lease programs enable buyers to get lease payments and fleet access. It recently moved its call-out from 72 hours non-peak to 96 hours.
Jet Linx Aviation (6)
Jet Linx Aviation reports having approximately 115 aircraft in its fleet, of which the FAA lists 98 as being available for charter. CEO Jamie Walker says they have nine private jets going thru FAA conformity and onto its Part 135 charter certificate with 20 more aircraft slated for the balance of the year.
Some of Jet Linx’s growth has been via buying management contracts and charter books from other private aviation businesses. Its 2020 acquisition of Meridian Air Charter made it a big player at Teterboro, the country’s busiest private jet airport. Its deal with Elliott Aviation yielded a base in Minneapolis. In fact, it’s advertising in business aviation trade publications (pictured below) looking for charter operators to buy.
When Opa Locka opens, it will have bases in 13 of the 25 busiest private aviation airports in the U.S.
It recently added two executive positions to help it accelerate acquisitions.
Jet Edge International (8)
While Jet Edge is currently ranked 8th on our list of top operators, based on fractional and charter flight hours through June, we expect it to challenge FlyExclusive for the 5th spot when Argus updates full-year 2021 data.
That’s based on its announced growth. Since launching its AdvantEdge program in June, CEO Bill Papieriello says it sold the equivalent of 15 additional jets based on 900 charter hours per year. It is also adding 27 owned super-midsize and large-cabin aircraft it purchased on a one-off basis beginning in January.
There’s more to come. The Los Angeles-based operator plans to order 15 to 20 new jets from an OEM in the coming months. Those deliveries would start by the end of next year.
By the holidays, the Jet Edge fleet will include 74 aircraft in its AdvantEdge private jet fleet, which doesn’t require owner approval and 110 overall.
Perhaps as a sign of the record demand, it discontinued its capped rate of $31,500, plus FET, for coast-to-coast flights in large-cabin jets.
The company recently increased hourly rates. It also hiked daily minimums and pared-down long-flight discounts.
Solairus Aviation (9)
Solairus Aviation currently has 241 aircraft under management with 86 on its Part 135 certificate, says CEO Dan Drohan.
He adds, “Our management sales pipeline is brisk. I suspect we can easily crest at 260 before year-end. We have a bunch of new deliveries from the various OEMs.”
If you saw Airshare’s order for 20 Challenger 350s in May coming, bring me along the next time you go to the race track. Three of the popular super-midsize jets will be operating in its fractional program by December.
The Lenexa, Kansas-based seller of shares and jet cards, also has a healthy management business across all cabin types, so perhaps that was a clue.
“We manage 26 aircraft for owners, ranging from Phenoms to Globals, and we’re on target to double the size of this fleet in the next couple years,” says CMO Andy Tretiak.
.”We’re a full-service private aviation company, offering fractional ownership, Embark jet cards, whole aircraft management, charters services, and third-party maintenance,” says Tretiak.
He adds, “While interest in our jet cards has skyrocketed over the last year, we are still actively selling them to new customers.”
Tretiak says, “We expect to have over 100 aircraft in our fleet within a few years. We are planning expansion to the east coast once we take delivery of more Challenger 350s, as soon as next year.”
Clay Lacy Aviation (11)
The FAA shows Van Nuys-based Clay Lacy Aviation with 59 aircraft. An official declined to share any fleet growth plans.
Nicholas Air (12)
Oxford, Mississippi-based Nicholas Air is pegged at 12th based on the Argus data we analyze; however, numbers provided by the company to us last year indicate it may well be as high as the 10th spot.
Last month it added a Phenom 300 with just 50 hours. Its private jet fleet averages under five years in age. In March, it added a Latitude and Phenom 300E to its diverse fleet, ranging from Pilatus PC-12s and Phenom 100s to the super-midsize Challenger 300. It now has 38 aircraft, including 26 it flies under Part 135 and another dozen it manages for owners under Part 91.
In 2020 it added two Phenom 300Es. Vice president Peder Von Harten says to expect more measured growth. In other words, expect more one-by-one or two additions.
Nicholas recently took its Pilatus PC-12 out of its fixed-rate card program. It is also limiting sales of its 15-hour cards, although it still offers a pay-as-you-go option. So far, it is keeping its 10 hours’ non-peak call-out.
Alliance Aviation (19)
After building and exiting Dumont’s charter operations, Kevin Wargo, Amber Martin, and Christopher Tasca launched Alliance Aviation in 2019. It includes Part 135 operator Wing Aviation, and in June, they burst onto our top 30 list at number 19.
Currently, there are 10 Gulfstream GIV-SPs, three Challenger 604s, and five Hawker 800XPs, with a sixth on the way. The first Global Express XRS will be available for charter on Oct 1. Look for more.
Like Jet Edge, Alliance isn’t a management company in the traditional sense. There is no owner approval. About half the fleet is company-owned, and they sell shares as well. It’s a 100% floating fleet.
Tasca says the goal is to build the fleet to at least 50 jets, but there isn’t a timetable. Plans are to add Challenger 350s in the future.
If it keeps adding managed aircraft and keeps selling Part 135 hours at its current pace, Alliance should be able to move as high as 12th place by year’s end.
Alliance recently increased rates on light and midsize jets. It hasn’t made any other changes to the program, keeping call-out at 8 hours. Its card offers one-way pricing to Hawaii and Alaska. There are also fixed rates for transcontinental flights on super mid and large-cabin jets.
GrandView Aviation (26)
In July, GrandView Aviation added its 12th Phenom 300. Its COO Jessie Naor says, “We just closed on our 13th Phenom 300. We hope to be at 15 by the end of 2021 and over by the end of 2022.
She adds, “The demand for charter is just incredible right now. We’re hiring over 30 positions right now, including pilots, dispatchers, marketing, other administrative positions to bolster our staff and capacity for end-of-year peak travel.”
There are no changes to its as-available jet card.
Northern Jet Management (30)
Northern Jet Management has over 20 aircraft in its charter fleet and offers the Florida Advantage Card. The Learjet-based card program offers fixed rates with its best pricing between the upper midwest and Florida.
Here are other operators offering card programs and brokers that are trying to secure lift via aircraft ownership.
The 2021 start-up plans to acquire Part 135 operators that could give it a fleet of around 15 aircraft. It is also teasing a possible order for over 70 new Piaggio P.180 EVOs. It currently leases the fast turboprops from Brazos Valley Air Charter.
At the same time, AeroVanti added a limited guaranteed availability membership and is adding customer service reps. It wants to cut response time from 24 hours to an hour.
Plans call for adding three more of the super-midsize jets via a new program.
Chief Operating Officer John O’Neil says, “Our co-ownership program has evolved into a Secured Aircraft Flight Time Agreement, offered by our new company Jetex Aviation Services, LLC. a subsidiary of 14 CFR Part 135 Air Carrier, Jetex LLC based in Stuart, Florida, which we recently acquired.”
He explains, “The Aircraft Flight Time Agreement allows for up to four secured interests in a specific Falcon 50 aircraft and provides up to 50 hours annually per quarter secured interest. The program provides a fixed hourly rate of $4,350 plus FET for the duration of the 5-year term and has an option after the fifth year to extend those rates into the sixth year or receive a $100,000 buyback. The cost for the secured interest and flight time agreement is $600,000.”
The program requires a 120 hours’ booking notification, 20 days’ notice for peak travel, a 25% reposition surcharge for certain international locations, and a two-hour daily minimum. A portion of unused hours annually rollover, and the hours a refundable anytime for 60% of the remaining value.
H says, “To support the program while we ramp up operations at Jetex, we maintain our long-time relationship with Chicago Jet Group, where we are the sales agent for the Falcon 50s and 900s they operate.”
Van Nuys-base Dreamline Aviation added a Challenger 604 to our fleet (N578JG) and is in the process of conformity on a Learjet 45XR and another Challenger 604. There are currently 14 aircraft.
It offers a guaranteed availability, fixed-rate jet cards for turboprop, light, and midsize jets within 75 miles of Oakland, San Carlos, and Van Nuys airports. Like others, there were recent rate increases.
According to the FAA, Dumont Aviation has eight aircraft on its Part 135 certificate, including five Falcon 2000s.
The company offers jet cards across five categories with 120 minute daily minimums and 48-hour call-outs.
Elite Jet Charters
Elite Jet Charters of Naples, Florida, which has four Phenom 300s for its jet card program, added a 2011 Hawker 850XP.
A spokesperson says there are plans for fleet expansion this year but declined to elaborate.
“We are nominally increasing our rates starting October,” he says, adding, “Similar to the rest of the industry, we continue to have record numbers.”
Iowa-based floating fleet operator Exec1 Aviation current has six Hawker 400XPs and one 400A. It added two XP light jets and retired a pair of 400As. All have fresh paint and interiors over the past 24 months, and three currently have WiFi.
Plans are to add an eight jet next year. With record demand from brokers, it has streamlined its jet card program to only offering fixed one-way rates on-fleet. It reduced its hourly rates from $5,800 to $5,000, including FET. However, the program is now as-available.
Its jet card customers are increasing, with patrons typically willing to book 30 to 60 days in advance in exchange for low rates. Flights booked off-fleet use dynamic pricing, and customers can pay from their jet card account.
In April, jet card broker Jets.com bought Pittsburgh Jet Center to secure availability for clients. It has two Cessna Citation CJ3s, two Citation XLSs, and one XLS+ on its Part 135 certificate. It is adding a Bombardier Challenger 300.
At the time, executives at Jets.com said plans call for doubling the managed fleet in the next 12 months. A spokesperson says, “We are closing on another CJ3 today, adding to the fleet. And we have another managed Challenger 300 in prebuy. We’re looking for more CJ3s and XLSs, but the market is very tight.”
However, Jets is putting its jet card program on hiatus as of Sept. 1.
A spokesperson says, “As you know, the industry has become very turbulent, and in order to continue to offer the level of service we pride ourselves in, this has become a necessity.”
Private Jet Services
Private Jet Services sister Part 135 operator Elevate Jet is increasing its fleet. According to an email, “In the past twelve months, we doubled the number of aircraft under management. In August, Elevate Jet added two new aircraft to its managed fleet, and we plan to double the size of the fleet again in the next 12 months.”
The PJS jet card increased light jet daily minimums to 120 minutes and super mids to 150 minutes in January. It is also adding an ultra-long-haul tier to its jet card with the same terms as large-cabin jets.
Qatar Executive increase its fleet by more than 50% in the next year. It will receive eight Gulfstream G650ERs in the next 10 months. It already operates seven. The fleet already includes three Bombardier Global 5000, a Global Express XRS, and an Airbus A319CJ.
It is also the global launch customer of the Gulfstream G700 and expects deliveries to begin in 2022.
Launched in 2020, the Diamond Agreement offers fixed one-way rates globally with the purchase of at least 50 hours per year. While U.S. travelers can only use Qatar Executive for international flights, the company allows you to use funds in your account for domestic charters via partner operators.
Silverhawk Aviation has grown its fleet to 17 aircraft. There is one super mid, five midsize jets, six-light jets, and five King Air 90s. A Sovereign and Encore are on the way.
For its jet card program, there are no repositioning fees within a 200-mile radius of Lincoln, Nebraska. Guaranteed availability is now at 48 hours’ notice. Previously, the program was as-available.
Star Jets International
Miami-based Cirrus SF50 Vision Jet operator VeriJet recently expanded to California and the West in addition to its service area in Florida and the Southeastern U.S. As of late July, VeriJet had nine SF50s on certificate and 10 in the pipeline. Another eight are expected to join the fleet by the first quarter of 2022.