Over our 23-year history of advising private flyers, the private aviation industry has boomed, struggled and reinvented itself several times over. The fascinating thing about private air travel though, is that it has survived and flourished even during the most uncertain times. Take, for example, the tragic events of September 11, 2001, which left Americans feeling devastated and extremely vulnerable. Our notion of safety, especially when it comes to traveling, would never be the same. As the stress of traveling skyrocketed, it’s no surprise that consumer complaints about commercial air travel did as well. People who could afford to do so began turning to private aviation as an alternative.
The industry’s resilience has been tested yet again in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, easily the biggest crisis the aviation industry has ever faced. More than half a year later and commercial air travel is still down by roughly 60 per cent. Being stuck in a crowded airport terminal and sharing an airplane cabin with hundreds of strangers is not appealing during the best of times, much less during a pandemic.
Nevertheless, the demand for private jets has remained steady and, in some cases, grown exponentially. People who may have previously flown first or business class have been turning to private jet travel to lower their risk of contracting COVID-19. Whether or not these people will continue to fly private when things return to normal is to be determined. (However, as I’ve said many times over the years, once you’ve flown on a private jet, it’s really hard to go back to the Delta counter.)
That’s because the experience of private jet travel is nothing less than intoxicating. It offers independence, luxury, and, undeniably, a sense of power. You fly on your schedule, take off when you want, land at over 5,000 airports in the country (rather than the 500 available to commercial airlines), and avoid the soul-crushing experience of commercial air travel. Also an enormously powerful productivity tool, private flying literally serves as a time machine - turning a five-day vacation into a seven-day vacation, and a three-day business trip into one that gets you home for supper. It’s no wonder, then, that for many, this aspiration is nearly irresistible.
No one can deny the quality of life benefits of private jet travel. But these benefits come at a cost of thousands to millions of dollars. Mistakes are costly and often irreversible. It is essential that both new entrants and experienced private flyers do their due diligence before making an investment of this magnitude. Wealth managers and family offices are often called upon to facilitate and manage these investments. Understandably, however, most lack the aviation or legal expertise required to navigate the options, vet providers and programs, and negotiate private jet deals.
About the author
James D Butler is an attorney and CEO of Shaircraft Solutions – a Maryland-based consulting firm advising individuals and businesses on investments in private air travel for more than 20 years. For more detail about Shaircraft, click here.