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Private Jet Rentals Grow in the Form of Memberships and Fractional Shares, Business and Industry Trends Analysis

The latest business jets can cost $75 million or more for the largest long-range aircraft—airplanes that can travel 7,000+ miles nonstop on intercontinental flights.  Small to mid-size jets cost $10 million to $50 million, depending on size and range.  
A select set of affluent travelers fly privately, especially through charters and fractional bizjet ownership plans.  U.S. private aviation in total was up 45.8% in 2021 over 2020, according to the FAA.  In 2022, private flight volume rose another 5.3% to reach 5.37 million domestic and international arrivals. 
Under the fractional concept, users commit to fly a given number of hours yearly.  They pre-purchase the right to use one or more types of aircraft for those hours.  Fractional ownership management firms then acquire, staff, maintain and operate the aircraft, keeping them ready and waiting for their user base.
Leading companies in this field include NetJets (owned by conglomerate Berkshire Hathaway), Sentient Jet, Flight Options (www.flightoptions.com) and Flexjet (www.flexjet.com).  NetJets is especially dominant in the fractional niche.  Customers wanting to make only a modest commitment are typically sold “membership” cards.  These cards are generally priced in prepaid amounts of $50,000 to $350,000.  They allow the card holder to call upon aircraft on an as-needed basis, with the cost deducted from the balance remaining on the card.  NetJets (www.netjets.com) saw a boom recently and increased its fleet by more than 110 new jets between 2021 and 2022.  In 2023, NetJets expanded further by commissioning four long-range Bombardier Global 8000 jets for its fleet, an order totaling $312 million.
Flexjet offers a JetCard available in 25-hour increments.  Fractional ownership and lease options are also available in 50-hour increments.
A few companies are offering aircraft membership plans that operate in a similar manner to scheduled airlines.  The most notable is California’s Surf Air (www.surfair.com), flying Pilatus turboprops around the San Francisco area, Los Angeles area and Las Vegas, with newer routes to Texas and the Florida panhandle.  Reasonable monthly fees enable members to fly as often as they want.
Wheels Up (wheelsup.com) uses its growing membership to provide better prices on hourly charter.  It offers membership pricing for family and corporate levels.  Fees include a one-time initiation cost plus annual dues and hourly charges.  The fleet includes King Air turboprops and Cessna Citation jets.  In spite of years of operation, the firm encountered severe cash flow problems in 2023, partly solved by an infusion of cash from existing partners including Delta.
A new twist to private flight is startup XO (flyxo.com), formerly JetSmarter, Inc., which offers empty seats on private jets available through a smartphone app to its members.  Flights include scheduled shuttle flights on major routes or empty-leg trips, which utilize planes being flown empty from one airport to another in preparation for a scheduled flight.
JSX (www.jsx.com) offers semi-private flying experiences on a fleet of 30-seat Embraer 135/145 jets that feature comfortable luxury interiors, with flights to approximately 20 destinations.  Based in Dallas, Texas, JSX flights are booked online similar to commercial flights, but flyers enjoy fast check-in at private terminals (40 minutes before takeoff for Bahamas flights and 20 minutes before takeoff for domestic flights), complimentary cocktails, soft drinks and snacks.  One-way, nonstop fares range from $199 to $1,299.


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