VIP airliners, including Boeing Business Jets, Airbus Corporate Jets, and Regional Jets could be the answer for your Group Private Jet Charters
COVID-19 and travel bubbles with extended family members and friends mean more of you need options beyond the setting and baggage capacity of most private jets
This exclusive Guide from Private Jet Card Comparisons gives you a detailed look at what you need to know before chartering VIP airliners, BBJs, ACJs, and reconfigured regional jets
While the private jet market has been buoyed by newbies moving to private aviation charters and jet cards to minimize COVID-19 exposure, the next trend is starting to gain traction say, several industry executives.
Most large-cabin private jets max out at 14 to 16 seats, and while there are some that seat up to 18, that generally means three couches with three people on a couch. In other words, it’s not ideal for flights of more than an hour or two.
Beyond that, there are issues with space and weight for luggage. In some cases, families are heading someplace for two months instead of two weeks. Many private aviation users are staying for longer periods at their second homes in resort destinations.
High-end travel advisors and villa rental agencies report a brisk business in guests who are essentially moving in for two to three months instead of the typical seven to 10 days.
In other words, there is increased demand for on-demand charter aircraft that can hold more people, and in some cases, more, heavier, or odd-shaped baggage.
To help you figure it all out, with input from experts, we outline the issues you need to consider in chartering VIP Airliners and regional jets, the various aircraft type options available, both in summary and more granular detail, including seat maps.
Booking a VIP airliner or regional jet is different from your run-of-the-mill on-demand charter and not something you should take lightly. It often costs a lot of money, and there are risks if you end up taking shortcuts. Many of these large-cabin aircraft fly under a different set of government regulations than your standard Part 135 charter or jet card flights.
To help you navigate, our guide highlights both a variety of aircraft that will fit your needs and a primer on what you need to know before you buy.
While most private jets, particularly light jets up to super-midsize aircraft, have fairly standard configurations of club chairs, divans, and couches, VIP Airliners and regional jets are a different beast.
While one likely thinks of private staterooms, showers, and boardroom tables, that’s not necessarily true.
In many instances, you will find seating more akin to those reclining business class seats with pop-up footrests that were popular during the 1990s. Some of these aircraft have a couple of rows of facing seats with a table so you can have a seated meal or set-up an open bar and snack area. These aircraft are popular with sports teams, where athletes need a bit of extra room but are likely to spend most of the flight sleeping or reading—the same with corporate shuttles.
You will then find some aircraft that offer seats similar to modern-day business-class types that recline into full flatbeds. You’ve seen these on the private jet tours offered by Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts, Abercrombie & Kent, TCS World Travel, and Crystal AirCruises.
There are also reconfigured regional jets like the ERJ-135 and ERJ-145s that JSX operates in Texas and the Western U.S. In some cases, they seat 30 passengers offering up to six inches more legroom in economy class style seats. They can also be very cost-effective starting at as little as $6,000 per hour, not much more than a light jet.
Then there are the Boeing Business Jets and Airbus Corporate Jets, or hulls that have been converted into a true VIP experience. These renditions have private bedrooms, in some cases showers, and multiple living areas.
Greg Raiff, the CEO of Private Jet Services Group, which specializes in large aircraft charter flights, says these are ideal if you are flying with young children, as you can easily designate private cabins for play or rest areas while the adults have their own fun. Some also have separate areas for your staff. The catch is for the maximum capacity for the ones that can fly domestic legs (see Illegal Charters) is 18 passengers.
Per hour charter costs for VIP airliners, including BBJ types, generally ranges from $12,000 to $20,000 per hour, so at first blush, not much different than you would expect if you are looking at G650s or late model Bombardier Globals. At the same time, if you are only looking for flights of two to two-and-a-half hours, there are also reconfigured regional jets. These aircraft typically have leather seats that are similar to what you find in economy class but have legroom equivalent to domestic first class. Rates start at just $6,000 to $8,000 per hour. Yes, they aren’t luxury, but you avoid large airport terminals and they can get your group of up to 30 people where you need to go.
Like on-demand charter, your provider has to work ferry flights into your trip quote. With a limited inventory of these aircraft, it increases the chances of incurring repositioning flights. For the most part, the VIP Airliners are based in Southern California, the New York City area, or South Florida. In other words, if you are starting your trip from these areas, you will probably save some ferry flight fees. The regional jets are more spread out.
Only N-tails – U.S. registered aircraft – can fly you within the U.S., eliminating some foreign registered aircraft. However, foreign-registered aircraft can fly you from the U.S. to international destinations and back.
Booking ahead is important. Raiff says while activity with these oversize private jets used to be focused on the festive season and school breaks, PJS has trips booked virtually every week. Operators quote prices and build schedules based on when you book.
He points to one client who booked several months in advance. The Boeing Business Jet (BBJ) he used stayed with him in Hawaii for the trip’s duration, so the pricing was based on one roundtrip. If you called tomorrow and wanted to book for next week, even if you were only staying a week, the chances are that aircraft would need to fly back to the mainland as it probably has other customers who have flights booked. That means your charter price would entail paying for two roundtrips to Hawaii – one to drop you off and fly the jet back, and then a second to pick you up and fly you back.
While on a per-seat basis, regional jets and airliners with more standard configurations can be very cost-effective, keep in mind many people don’t fill them, either they don’t need the seats, or they want more space, say a separate row for each passenger.
He says VIP Airliners will typically run about 50% more than a normal large-cabin private jet as a rule of thumb. However, if the size of your group necessitates charter two or three standard private jets, a VIP Airliner can yield significant savings.
Catering, deicing and various airport and other fees are generally charged a la carte, so the hourly rate plus ferry fees are the starting point. If the aircraft is staying with you, expect to pay for crew overnights, per diems, and parking costs.
There usually is no backup for most VIP Airliners since they are limited in number and especially by geographic locations. However, at this level of aircraft mechanicals are highly minimal compared to light, mid, super mid, large-cabin private jets, experts say. Airliners are built for massive engine cycles.
Security and Reputation
While VIP Airliners give you plenty of space, they stick out when and where they go, particularly in destinations that don’t regularly see them. Ask your broker or operator about any additional security resources they recommend.
Remember, there’s a greater likelihood it may become public about who arrived on that big private jet at the local airport. If privacy is a key concern, you may want to arrange to arrive and depart at nighttime when it’s harder for photographers to take pictures from a distance. It would be best if you also let your provider know so they can coordinate extra precautions, perhaps arranging to park your aircraft at a more remote spot of the airport away from prying eyes.
Operators and brokers both go out of business. Ask if there is a DOT-approved escrow account or discuss payment terms, and make sure you kick the tires. A company that seems stable today might not be around next year. While we include JSX in the VIP Airliner Guide below, its sister charter company JetSuite declared bankruptcy earlier this year. Clients who had unused jet card credits lost over $50 million.
The FAA and TSA
Remember these numbers: 121, 129, and 135. These refer to the FAA’s regulations under 14 CFR Part 121, Part 129, and Part 135.
Part 135 is what you fly under when you typically charter or buy a jet card. Part 135 flights are restricted to an aircraft certified by the manufacturer for a maximum of 30 passengers and a payload of 7,500 pounds, including the weight of passengers, baggage, catering, and so forth. Additionally, if there are more than 18 belted seats, there are additional training requirements for flight attendants and cabin engineering, which is why many VIP airliners cap out at that magical 18 passenger seatbelts.
If you are chartering a VIP airliner with more than 30 seats, you will likely be flying under the Part 121 regulations. These are the same rules as the major airlines (United Airlines, American Airlines) and are most frequently used by professional and collegiate sports teams, big-name musical acts, and UHNW groups flying extended families too big for a typical executive jet.
On an aircraft with 18 or fewer seatbelts, operating under Part 135, Raiff says, “The aircraft baggage compartment will volume out before you run up against the 7,500lb weight limitation inherent in the 135 regulations.”
In BBJs, much of the Boeing 737’s cargo space has been factory fitted with auxiliary fuel tanks that provide a true intercontinental range for an aircraft initially conceived to fly only cross country.
A foreign registered VIP Airliner picking you up in the U.S. for international flights would operate under Part 129. Crystal AirCruises Boeing 777-200 or Air Canada’s Jetz fleet of Airbus A319 would be examples. These airlines are prohibited from offering flights point-to-point within the United States (known as “cabotage”).
You may hear Part 125. It’s unlikely you will come across this, and that is by design. Part 125 governs the private carriage operation of a traditional airliner. That’s aircraft with more than 30 passenger seatbelts or a payload exceeding 7,500lbs. These aircraft, while appearing like any other Boeing jet, operate under less stringent rules than their commercial airline counterparts and are prohibited from advertising to the public.
So why not just take out some seatbelts and operate that Boeing 747 under Part 135? If only it were that easy. The engineering required for an “STC” (Supplemental Type Certificate) can take years and hundreds of thousands of dollars, with no guarantee of success, Raif says. And ultimately the manufacturer (Boeing or Airbus) must agree and will charge their own fees.
In all cases, with VIP Airliners you will need to go through TSA screening as the aircraft’s maximum operating weight exceeds the 100,000lb MTOW threshold set by TSA back in the Bush 43 Presidency. However, the screening can be executed – and usually is – by approved third-party firms.
Raiff notes, “We usually secure a private conference room in the FBO for our BBJ clients – a convenient spot for the traveling party to congregate before boarding. Hand wands make the screening process both quick and dignified. Alternatively, at the clients’ preference, we can screen at the base of the airstairs and allow direct tarmac access to ground vehicles where the airports will play ball with us.” In some cases, your flight attendants will be certified as screeners.
While Amstat indicates over 100 VIP airliners based in North America, the vast majority are on Part 91 or Part 125 certificates. That means their owners can only use them for non-commercial purposes. An example would be the twin Boeing 747SPs that is owned by Las Vegas Sands Corp., often seen parked at Las Vegas McCarran International Airport. Government regulations are clear that even if you happen to be friends with an owner, you cannot provide any compensation, for example, allowing him or her to use your place in Maui for a week or two in exchange for flights.
How To Book
You can go directly to operators. They are going to try and fit you into what they have to offer, which may or may not be best for you.
Charter brokers who are experienced in this market are a good option. Access Jet Group, Air Partner, Air Charter Service, PrivateFly, Private Jet Services, and Victor all have divisions that do nothing but sports teams, live entertainment tours, corporate shuttles, roadshows, and such. In other words, they understand the aircraft and operators out there so are well placed to give you a proposal with the best options.
VIP Airliner and Regional Jet Charter Guide
56 to 150
TCS World Travel
53 to 64
Ultimate Jet Charters
Dornier 328/ Embraer 135LR
Source: Private Jet Card Comparisons. Note: While there are more VIP Airliners around-the-world, the ones we have included in this chart are typically based in North America, thus reducing the ferry fees which are added to your actual flight hours.
VIP Airliner, Boeing Business Jet, and Regional Jet Group Charter Guide – Domestic and International
VIP Boeing 737-400s
Who: iAero Airways
Seats: 56 to 150
Number available: 33
iAero has a fleet of 33 Boeing 737-400s. They can be configured in a variety of ways – from 56 seats to a high-density 150 passenger seating arrangement.
Whether a First Class/VIP requirement or an interior that requires a more compact mode of flying, the change can be made usually in days. Of course, with interior changes, the adaptation for a more involved level of service can also be provided depending on the wishes of the client. Changes will add to your price.
Some aircraft include Gogo Inflight WiFi that allows for multiple users to keep in touch while in the air.
The Dornier 328 offers a 6’2” stand-up cabin. Ultimate JetCharter’s version comes with leather seats with a capacity of up to 30 passengers. It offers short field capability (4,800 ft.) and nonstop flights of up to 1,000 miles. The aircraft is certified to fly throughout the US, Canada, Mexico, and the Caribbean (including Cuba).
With a 36 inch pitch and a range of 1,750 nautical miles, these reconfigured regional jets may not be a luxury experience like you will find with a BBJ. Still, they are a very economical option for multiple families to bubble together to a private island or trip to the slopes. They are also ideal for a safe way to bring wedding guests to that special day. Prices start at $6,000 per hour.
At just $6,000 to $8,000 per hour, plus repositioning based on timing and availability, JSX offers one of the best values if you have a group too big for a traditional private jet. The converted regional airliners have six inches of extra legroom in each room. It is equivalent to what you would find in a narrowbody aircraft in first class. The nonstop range is approximately 1,200 miles, so perfect for the multi-family bubble trip to the slopes or perhaps a western ranch retreat.
This Boeing Business Jet owned by motivational speaker Tony Robbins has a capacity of 18 passengers. It comes with a crew of four pilots and two flight attendants. The range is 6,270 nm, with a cruising speed of 530 mph. There is 525 cubic feet of baggage space.
VIP Airliners and Regional Jets – International Flights Only
Who: Crystal AirCruises
Number available: 1
Crystal AirCruises’ Crystal Sky is a Boeing 777-200 with 88 flat-bed business class seats. There’s a forward cabin bar and dining area. It is popular with customers who are looking for an open cabin layout. With a nonstop range of 14 hours, this VIP Airliner is ideal for intercontinental flying with large groups that want space to walk around.
TCS World Travel offers this Airbus Corporate Jet A321-NEO LR. You can have it configured with 52 first-class flatbed seats or 64 business class recliner seats. That comparess to 220 on a commercial Airbus A321 aircraft.
If it’s good enough for Phil Collins, Bruce Springsteen, U2, and the Spice Girls, well, Air Canada thinks its fleet of three Airbus A319 VIP Airliners could be right for your group of rock stars.
The 58 seats covered with Italian leather are arranged 2 x 2 facing forward except for rows 11 and 12 that face each other with a table between them. It’s ideal for a game of cards or a hospitality area.
The aircraft has a range of six hours, and Air Canada will customized business class style meals and the ability to personalize menu cards and head tidies with your family crest or any messaging you wish. There is a personal concierge, an on-board mechanic to alleviate any technical glitches, and the airline promise to return quotes within 24 hours.
You can fly from FBOs or if you decide to fly from a passenger terminal, your group can access its Maple Leaf Lounges.
Fly up to 6,700 nautical miles nonstop with up to 51 total passengers. Configured for UHNWs who travel with staff or extended families, Sky Lady has a VIP area, with a private bedroom, living area, and dining room. There are additional passenger and staff seating zones. The minimum crew is two pilots and five flight attendants, depending on service required and length of the trip.
Crystal has been known for its award-winning luxury cruise ships, however, since its purchase by Genting Hong Kong it has been expanding into aviation with its upcoming Boeing 777-200LR customized with just 84 flat bed seats, a lounge and bar area, plus wine cellar. Right now its Crystal Luxury Air division is offering its large-cabin Bombardier Global Express XRS (N989SF) with a passenger capacity of 13 at an hourly rate of around $7,500.