The private jet goes public

Bert Archer
Special to The Globe and Mail

Pull out your BlackBerry to book a private flight.

Corporate aviation is more flexible than ever

Bert Archer

From Wednesday's Globe and Mail
Published on Tuesday, Sep. 07, 2010 3:54PM EDT
Last updated on Tuesday, Sep. 07, 2010 5:10PM EDT

Apps, which started out geeky and evolved into pop phenomena, have gone high-end. You can now order a private jet to pick you up, anywhere in the world, within four hours, on your BlackBerry.

Thanks to a new app from broker Blue Star Jets, you can type in your location and your destination, see what's available and for how much, and order it right there.

I tried it out (the app also works for iPhone , Android and Palm), typing in Kelowna, B.C., to Seattle, Wash. More than a dozen options popped up, ranging in capacity from eight to 13 passengers and in price from $20,097.60 to $61,625.99.

That sounds like a lot, and it is, especially for individuals, for whom private jets remain, as they've always been, trappings of either extreme wealth or delusions of grandeur.

But for business travellers, in addition to being very cool, do the math: If you have a team of eight, $20,097.60 works out to just over $2,500 a person. Regular Air Canada fares (WestJet doesn't fly to Seattle) would be more than $1,000, if you could get eight seats with four hours notice, which, on Tuesday, you could not. There were only five departure times available, anyway, just one of which was in the morning, and they all connected through either Vancouver or Calgary with travel times of more than three hours. Though private jets have long been associated with extravagance and corporate waste, there are times when not only does it make Big-Three-car-company-CEO sense, it makes actually-saves-you-time-and-money sense.

Private jets have come a long way since Jonathan and Jennifer hopped into theirs every week in Hart to Hart. In the Reagan years, though there were a couple of charter companies, you mostly had to have enough money to own and maintain one yourself, or you had to know someone who did.

But things have changed. They're not even called private jets any more. “Corporate aviation” is the preferred term these days and it includes options such as fractional ownership and jet cards, which allow you to buy blocks of time, making it much less expensive. There are, these days, four basic instances in which you may consider flying private.

WHEN FLYING WITH A GROUP

Like our example above, flying with a team, especially last-minute, can present enormous booking problems, and if you're travelling business class anyway, the cost can be surprising. Stan Kuliavas, director of business development for Calgary-based fractional-ownership jet company AirSprint, offers the example of a seven-person team at a Toronto ad firm that had to make a last-minute, high-value presentation in Philadelphia. Last-minute same-day booking in executive class on Air Canada would, yesterday, have cost them $19,203.87.

The total AirSprint cost, including fractional ownership fees (the firm had already invested in a 1/16 share of a plane to the tune of $302,425 over five years, and was paying a $2,925 monthly fee) was a little over $6,500.

WHEN THE WORK IS SENSITIVE

If you have a presentation to work on that contains proprietary ideas, business class – filled as it is with potential competitors – is one of the least secure places to be discussing it.

WHEN TIME IS TIGHT

If you have to get somewhere other than a major urban centre, it can take a while in Canada, at least by the usual means. But there are about 1,000 airports in this country, the vast majority of which do not serve commercial airlines. A corporate jet can get you to any of these, taking you closer to where you have to be. It might not cost less than regular airfare and car rental or service, but it can shave hours off a trip.

WHEN YOU WANT TO IMPRESS

As the Harts would tell you, flying on your own plane is deeply impressive. But this can be a trap almost as sticky as convenience. The convenience of those car-company CEOs flying from Detroit to D.C. was far outweighed by other concerns. As for impressions, the question is, who is it you want to impress? Is it really your client, and will that impression turn into more money than this plane is costing? Sending a jet to pick up a client for a meeting can put them in the right mood to spend money, a trick Vegas has known for years. But it's easy to get carried away. Just ask Starbucks, which put its $45-million (U.S.) Gulfstream 550 up for sale early last year just weeks after it took delivery, realizing it was putting the foam before the coffee.

For most business flying, your instincts are probably right: Private jets are an extravagance. But for those rare times when it's not, it may be good to have that app in your pocket.

 


Copyright © 2001-2012 BSJ - All Rights Reserved.