Where does your jet card private jet come from?

There are three basic sourcing models for your jet card – operator, broker, and hybrid. Here’s how it works.

By Doug Gollan, June 16, 2024

There are some critical differences in where your aircraft comes from regarding jet cards and memberships, which can be confusing. We explain the various sourcing models that are used.

When you buy a jet card or membership, you will fly on an aircraft operated by a company your provider owns or a third-party provider.

The latter is considered a brokered flight.

Operators also refer to these flights as off-fleet.

In all cases, your flight provider must source only aircraft operated under Part 135 in the United States. The FAA rules cover charter flights for aircraft seating 18 or fewer passengers.

In other countries, the flight provider will use operators granted the ability to offer charter flights, often referred to as AOC or Air Operators Certificate.

Remember, not just the operator but the actual aircraft must be legally approved to fly charter: commercial flights for compensation.

In the U.S., the list of aircraft from each operator on their charter certificate is officially known as the D-085.

Then, the pilots have to meet the requirements to operate charter flights.

These requirements are different and more stringent than the rules that guide jet owners when they are flying for their own purposes. In the U.S., it’s called Part 91.

The other thing to know—although somewhat incidental—is that a jet owner will fly under Part 91 when they are using the airplane.

However, that exact same airplane flies under Part 135 rules when flying commercially.

It’s also worth noting that charter aircraft need a longer minimum runway length than those operating Part 91.

That’s why you may have seen specific aircraft types operating at a specific airport that are excluded from the guarantees of your jet card or membership program.

Jet Card Sourcing Models

For operators that either sell jet cards or service hybrid and brokers who do, they build their fleets in three distinct ways.

The good news is that all sources must meet national government regulations governing charter flights.

Jet cards are just a form of charter.

In the U.S., as mentioned, it’s Part 135.

Below is a breakdown of where your private jet comes from, with more details on each.

Jet Card Provider Sourcing Models

Your Flight Provider Their Model Your Airplanes Examples
Operator Sourcing from their own fleet is often referred to as on-fleet. They only go off-fleet as a last resort, in other words, when they don’t have an aircraft to fulfill customer-contracted guarantees. Fractional, Owned/Leased, Managed NetJets, Flexjet, FlyExclusive, Nicholas Air, PlaneSense, Airshare, Volato
Broker Sourcing from other operators, your jet card provider acts like a travel agent. Fractional, Owned/Leased, Managed Magellan Jets, Air Charter Service, OneFlight, Jettly, Outlier Jets, Prive Jets
Hybrid Your jet card provider has an in-house charter operator to access but also uses other operators when it makes business sense – on-fleet and off-fleet Fractional, Owned/Leased, Managed XO, Wheels Up, Sentient Jet, Jet Linx, FXAir, Fly Alliance, Jets.com

Now for the confusing part!

These definitions have exceptions.

Let’s start with Operator jet card programs.

The first thing to know is that even operator programs occasionally go off-fleet.

However, their off-fleet or brokered flights are limited to when they cannot fulfill guarantees on-fleet.

These are most likely to happen for recovery flights, such as when you have a mechanical.

However, you can also find yourself off-fleet around peak periods.

But more on operator fleets in a minute.

The broker model is self-explanatory.

Your flight provider doesn’t operate any charter private jets.

They act like a travel agent, sourcing aircraft from qualified operators to fulfill program guarantees.

In some cases, aircraft types may have a maximum age limit.

They may require the operator to have a certain Argus, Wyvern, or IS-BAO certification level.

Finally, there is the hybrid model.

Hybrids have a fleet mainly used for jet cards or membership customers. They also widely utilize third-party operators.

In other words, you could fly months with this type of flight provider and never fly on an aircraft they operate.

Like brokers and even operators, each has standards and methods for sourcing off-fleet aircraft for your flights.

For both brokers and hybrids, who chooses the actual airplane varies.

Some have sourcing departments.

In other cases, your jet card salesperson also sources aircraft from an approved list that meets company specifications.

Guaranteed Revenue Programs

Larger brokers and hybrids have GRPs with operators.

GRP stands for Guarantee Revenue Programs.

GRPs can be for days, weeks, or even months.

In these cases, the jet card flight provider gains scheduling control of specific aircraft from an operator.

In other words, it gives them more flexibility to accommodate customer scheduling changes without facing operator cancelation penalties.

Smaller jet card brokers who don’t have the volume where it would make sense to pay GRPs will often have stricter cancelation terms or longer daily minimums for members that mirror the terms of the operators they use.

Jet Card Operators

While airlines like American Airlines or United Air Lines typically own or lease the aircraft you fly on, the situation is different in private aviation.

Operators use three models to build their fleets:  Fractional, Owned/Leased, and Aircraft Management.

Jet Card Operator Models

Operator Models How it works Examples
Fractional Airplanes are owned by fractional customers, with the operator often owning a core fleet to provide enough capacity so share owners are flown on-fleet 95% +. These operators sometimes have to go off-fleet to fulfill guarantee guarantees. Shareowners don’t own the company, just slices of the airplane. NetJets, Flexjet, PlaneSense, Airshare, Volato
Owned/Leased The operator buys or leases aircraft to fly customers VistaJet, FlyExclusive, Wheels Up, Nicholas Air, Qatar Executive
Aircraft Management The operator manages aircraft for UHNWs and corporations, which allows it to offer their airplanes for charter when they aren’t using them. Jet Linx, Solairus, Priester Aviation, Jet Aviation, Clay Lacy

When we think of fractional ownership, we think of NetJets and Flexjet, among others.

While they often refer to the customers who buy shares as owners, they are owners of the aircraft, not the company.

The operator serves as the manager of those aircraft and typically also owns what is called a core fleet.

Since there can be as many as 16 owners per aircraft, although the average is usually around 10, there are times when the fractional operator doesn’t have an airplane in its fleet that can provide a flight guaranteed by a customer contract.

They will then go off-fleet to source an aircraft, in effect, acting as a broker.

It is the same for the jet cards they sell.

Other operators use aircraft they own or lease.

It’s a similar model to the airlines.

However, aircraft management is the most significant aircraft source on the charter market.

It’s the staple of the long tail of smaller operators that is the backbone of the charter market.

In this case, the operator manages the aircraft for the owner.

For owners who want to offset ownership costs, they will enable their management company to offer their aircraft on the charter market.

Sometimes, they give their management companies blanket approval to sell charters on their airplanes.

In other cases, the management company needs owner approval for specific flights.

The bigger and newer the jet, the more likely it needs owner approval.

Owners will typically give their personal use schedules to management companies in advance, so the management company will only book charters when the owner doesn’t need the airplane.

Generally speaking, owners have the right to pull back their airplanes, sending jet card sellers that offer guarantees scrambling to find a new jet.

Floating Fleets vs. Based Fleets

There is one more element to discuss regarding operators.

You may hear the term floating fleet.

And there are essentially two flying models among the three operator models.

A floating fleet refers to aircraft that don’t return to their base after each flight.

Instead, they float.

They pick up a customer at Teterboro and fly them to Charlotte.

From there, they fly empty to Atlanta, where they pick up their next customer and fly them to Palm Beach.

From there, they fly over to Tampa as an empty leg, pick up the next customer in Tampa who is going to New Orleans, and so forth.

Most operators using fractional and owned/leased fleets operate them as floating fleets.

However, some management companies have floating fleets as well.

In these cases, the pilots could live virtually anywhere but fly to meet their airplanes at a designated airport.

They fly with that aircraft for seven to 14 days, then fly home, have a break, and do it again.

Managed aircraft are often based at a specific airport, generally the one the owner uses or chooses to hang their airplane.

Since they return to base, their pricing often requires the charterer to pay for the empty return flight, which, in the case of brokers, can then try to sell the return or use it for another customer.

Management companies pass through the costs of operating the aircraft to their owners, including direct salary and benefits.

The management company hires the pilots. However, owners are generally involved and make the final call. After all, the pilots will, in fact, act as their personal pilots.

By the way…

Operators more and more use multiple models to build their fleet.

They may have both owned/leased aircraft and managed aircraft.

Some also have fractional programs for new and preowned airplanes, as well as managed and owned/leased airplanes.

Yes, it’s not black and white. But yes, that’s the way it is.

READ: What happens to your jet card and private jet membership deposits?

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