How's business for private jet operators in 2023? The answers vary

Overall demand for private jet flights is down from the 2021-22 peak, however, an analysis of Argus TraqPak data shows mixed fortunes.

By Doug Gollan, November 24, 2023

These are supposed to be the best times for fractional operators and challenging times for charter operators. Yet earlier this year, Jet It, a fractional provider, was the biggest private jet operator failure since JetSuite in 2020. That seeming conflict provides what can be a confounding backdrop for industry prognosticators.

But how’s the market?

Bears said most of the new-since-Covid private flyers would return to the airlines.

However, direct consumer research with private aviation users shows that hasn’t happened.

Others said concerns about provider finances, rising prices, inconsistent service, stricter terms for jet cards, an uncertain economy, regional wars, and political tension would drive down the market.

So far, that hasn’t happened meaningfully.

Year-to-date flight hours flown by North American charter and fractional operators are down – but only 3.9% off of last year’s records and double digits ahead of pre-Covid levels.

Some operator executives are frustrated that the broad brush of data doesn’t reflect their company’s fortunes.

Among the 25 largest operators, based on charter and fractional flight hours, 13 increased at least 2%, eight operators were down by more than 2%, and four had gains or losses of less than 2%.

– Argus TraqPak YTD through October 2023 vs. 2022

“Some of us are seeing a discussion about the market that is different than what we are feeling. We keep seeing growth and demand. We don’t see demand dropping the way other people interpret the macro data,” says Matt Liotta, Co-founder and CEO of Volato.

The 2021 start-up sells fractional shares and jet cards and actively pursues the on-demand wholesale market via brokers.

To see if we could find any trends, Argus TraqPak provided us with data on all fractional and charter operators that flew at least 100 hours between January and October of 2023 and a similar list for 2022.

The data was limited to fixed-wing jets and turboprop aircraft.

About the data

This leads to a point worth discussing to begin with, as opposed to a footnote.

It isn’t easy to divide out fractional and charter flying, at least in how WingX and Argus TraqPak categorize them.

For example, NetJets, Flexjet, PlaneSense, and Volato are categorized as fractional operators, and that is their principal business.

Yet they all operate flights under Part 135 instead of 91K.


The reasons vary. Sometimes, their fleets are used for jet cards or on-demand charter.

NetJets, prior to the pandemic, said 20% of its flying was for jet cards – a form of charter.

Even assuming it may only be in the 10% range today, NetJets’ jet card Part 135 hours would rank it among the five largest charter operators.

At the same time, some fractional customers fly under Part 135 for liability reasons.

And then operator like Volato structure their program where they fly exclusively under Part 135 rules.

Empty Legs

In looking at data, it’s also important to remember it includes empty-leg repositioning flights.

For large floating fleet operators, that probably makes up around 30% of their trackable hours.

For managed aircraft that return to their base after each revenue flight, it’s closer to 50%.

That means in looking at two operators with a similar amount of flight hours, a floating fleet operator may have had more occupied hours.

However, that doesn’t mean profit.

Fixed-base operators say they price those empty legs into their charter quotes.

And then, the aircraft tracked under Part 135 don’t consider owner flights under Part 91.

If an aircraft is identified as being on a charter certificate, all its hours are lumped into the charter segment.

All the above being said, this is what we saw when we were done sorting and filtering the data.

What we analyzed

We looked at all fixed-wing jet and turboprop aircraft from operators that had flown at least 100 hours through the end of October. In other words, we eliminated piston aircraft and helicopters.

In 2023, there were 868 such operators, up from 842 in 2022.

The number of operators that clocked at least 20,000 hours stayed steady at 10.

There was a decrease from 11 to 9 for operators between 10,000 and 19,999 hours.

The most significant drop was the number of operators that clocked between 5,000 and 9,999 hours. That number fell from 46 to 30.

Private Jet Operators by Hours: Oct. YTD

Hours 2023 Operators 2022 Operators Change
20,000 + hours 10 10 0
10,000 – 19,999 hours 9 11 -2
5,000 – 9,999 hours 30 46 -16
2,500 – 4,999 hours 93 97 -4
1,000 – 2,499 hours 195 181 +14
500 – 999 hours 146 134 +12
Operators with 100 + hours 868 842 +26

Source:  Private Jet Card Comparisons analysis of Argus TraqPak data

While the number of operators flying 2,500 to 4,999 hours dropped from 97 to 93, the number of operators flying 500 to 2,499 hours increased from 315 to 341.

We then looked at Argus’ lists of the top operators ranked by flight hours from 2022 and 2023.

In total, all charter and fractional operators clocked 2,346,829 flight hours, a drop of 95,249 hours, or a 3.9% decline.

However, all things weren’t equal.

The five largest operators – NetJets, Flexjet, Vista Global, Wheels Up (which was down 14.2%), and FlyExclusive, saw a cumulative increase of 5,706 flight hours, up 0.6%s of a percent.

For the next five providers, ranked 6th through 10th by Argus, there was a 10,601 increase in flight hours, 6.5% more than in 2022 for the same period (chart below).

Private Jet Operator Performance by Size

Ranking Count 2023 2022 Change – Hours Change % Market Share % 2023 Market Share % 2022 2023 Avg. Hours
Top 5 5 885,369 879,663 5,706 0.6% 37.7% 36.0% 177,074
Top 6 to 10 5 173,818 163,217 10,601 6.5% 7.4% 6.7%  34,764
Top 11 to 25 15 170,810 189,085 -18,275 -9.7% 7.3% 7.7% 11,387
Top 26 to 50 25 153,673 181,484 -27,811 -15.3% 6.5% 7.4% 6,147
Top 51 to 100 50 187,041 231,576 -44,536 -19.2% 8.0% 9.5% 3,741
Top 101 to 250 150 321,088 367,084 -45,996 -12.5% 13.7% 15.0% 2,141
Bottom 500 500 164,541 189,029 -24,488 -13.0% 7.0% 7.7% 329
All * 2,346,829 2,442,078 -95,249 -3.9% 100.0% 100.0%

Source:  Private Jet Card Comparisons analysis of Argus TraqPak data

From there, every grouping we looked at was down compared to last year.

Providers ranked 11th to 25th in flight hours, 26th to 50th, 51st to 100th, 101st to 250th, and the Bottom 500, with at least 100 flight hours, saw drops of 9.7% to 19.2%, considerably higher than the overall 3.9% decline.

The biggest percentage drop was with providers ranked 51st to 100th, a 19.2% drop.

In 2023, those operators flew between 2,951 hours (100th place) and 4,995 hours (51st place).

For 2022, the 100th-ranked operator flew 3,567 hours, while the 51st place required 6,245 flight hours.

In other words, it took 616 fewer hours to make it into the top 100 in 2023 compared to 2022.

Looking at the Bottom 500 with at least 100 hours, to be at the top of the bottom required 1,023 hours in 2022. A year later, it was 873 hours.

Still, it’s worth looking at the biggest gainers – and how they impact the overall market.

While the total market was down by slightly over 95,000 hours – 3.9%, the five biggest gainers – Flexjet, FlyExclusive, NetJets, Volato, and Vista increased their flying by 48,939 hours – a 6.9% increase (table below).

Biggest Gainers – By Flight Hours

Operator Name 2023 Hours 2022 Hours Difference 23′ v 22′ % Change
Flexjet 167,632 152,788 14,844 9.7%
FlyExclusive 45,367 33,683 11,683 34.7%
NetJets 432,109 420,548 11,561 2.7%
Volato 10,317 4,850  5,467 112.7%
Vista 106,580 101,196 5,384 5.3%
Biggest Gainers 762,005 713,066 48,939 6.9%

Source:  Private Jet Card Comparisons analysis of Argus TraqPak data

Among the 25 largest operators, based on charter and fractional flight hours, 13 increased at least 2%.

Meanwhile, eight operators were down by more than 2%, and four had gains or losses of less than 2%.

Adding some context

“As is the case, whenever we look at macro-level data, we can almost always find more to the story. While the overall industry is down over the last year, we can see some of the largest operators have grown in a time of overall contraction. That highlights a great success story that continues to prove the value and opportunity in private aviation,” says Argus Senior Vice President Travis Kuhn.

“Gone are the days when demand was so high customers would take anything. They are more demanding,” Liotta says.

However, several brokers say it has less to do with the quality or size of the operator.

One broker, who asked not to be named, says floating fleet charter operators have more airplanes than demand on many days.

He says those operators, with their own membership programs, essentially turned off the wholesale market when demand surged.

In some cases, they continued to expand their fleet. He points to Vista Global’s purchase of Jet Edge and Air Hamburg.

Another broker, which sells jet cards and on-demand charters, says his company is using 50% fewer operators than a year ago.

“We were at a point where our go-to operators weren’t available. We were making dozens of calls to find an airplane that met our standards. And we found new operators, and in fact, they were good operators. But they were expensive because of where their airplanes were based,” he said.

He says during 2021 and 2022, he was chartering jets based in Wisconsin and Iowa to fly clients from New York to Florida.

Those empty legs had to be factored into the pricing, he notes, whereas floating fleet operators quote point-to-point pricing.

What does it mean to you?

The pendulum is swinging back to favor the consumer but with a big caveat.

You may need to be flexible if you want to save.

Brokers say they are seeing better pricing and availability if you stay away from high-demand days.

The softer market can be seen with guaranteed jet card programs.

Many have cut the number of peak days. Others have cut the lead time to book at guaranteed rates.

FlyExclusive offers jet card members a 10% discount for flying on low-demand days.

Some have cut rates, and there is more negotiating.

66% of Private Jet Card Comparisons subscribers said they were able to negotiate extra discounts or perks in 2023 compared to 50% in 2022.

Still, it’s not clear that there is a crisis coming to the long tail despite the drop in flight hours.

One operator who works with several leading jet card providers says his phone is no longer ringing off the hook as it was in 2021 and 2022.

However, that’s not a problem, even though he says his flight hours are down by around 20%.

“We never believed the crazy period when everyone wanted a private jet was going to last forever, so we didn’t do anything stupid. We also found out that our (aircraft) owners liked the money, but they also didn’t want to run their airplanes and pilots into the ground with charter. We’re still better off than before Covid,” he said.

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