Three basic choices that make charter flights more affordable. Aircraft choice, taking ’empty leg flights’ or filling more seats.
The biggest factor in the cost of your private flight is the choice of aircraft. The cheapest way to fly private is by optimizing these choices to fit your needs. Flying in a Gulfstream G650 will cost you about $10,000 per hour or $17 a mile while flying in a Pilatus PC-12 costs about $6.50 a mile. You can choose between booking a long range, midsize private jet, a versatile turboprop, or a light air taxi.
Each aircraft has its niche for a reason.
The G650 can directly connect just about any 2 points on earth at 600 miles an hour. If you want to fly direct to Tahiti, Bali, this plane makes it easy. All schedules are on demand so you can fly 7,000 miles overnight and wake up rested, ready to start your day. Speed is another bonus. Jets like this allow you to spend less time in the air and more time where you wanted to be. This really makes a difference on long flights.
With an aircraft like that, why fly anything else? Sadly, all that speed and range comes at a cost. It is expensive to fly because the jet burns a ton of fuel. Also, because of its speed, it requires longer runways to operate. Many of the convenient, regional airports are off-limits to the G650 and you wouldn’t even consider a grass field airstrip. With aircraft like this, you are essentially limited to the same HUB airports that all of the commercial flights use. Because of that you miss out on the convenience and flavor of local airports. Don’t discount local airports, much less grass runways. There are famous grass airfields like Locher, in the Italian alps or fly in ranch resorts in Montana or Truckee Tahoe Airport in California that are totally unavailable with larger aircraft like this.
So what are some cheaper options for private flights? The Pilatus PC-12 is a turboprop with a comfortable 8 executive passenger, pressurized cabin. Because of its turbo prop configuration, it operates for about 1/3 the cost of some jets. The PC 12 also happens to be the aircraft that I flew into the Darfur region of Sudan for a medical relief mission. It is more than capable of a cargo configuration and landing on rough fields. The Swiss made aircraft is versatile, modern, and at 80 cents an available seat mile, it is also affordable to fly.
Book empty legs to avoid repositioning
Empty legs or repositioning flights the second biggest factor in the cost of your flight. Most operators will have to move an aircraft to pick you up because they don’t already have one at your departure location. The same goes for your destination. The operator doesn’t want to leave the aircraft in Aspen while you go skiing for the week so they will charge to fly it back to their home base or onto another customer location. You can make small adjustments to your itinerary that have big consequences. Working with the operators schedule so that you pick up someone else’s empty leg could easily save you 25%. If you can work out your plans so that you have a same day out and back flight, it will likely be half the cost of an overnight trip. Operators will usually charge you to keep the plane and crew somewhere overnight or charge to fly it home without you.
Fill the seats
Last but not least, filling the seats makes a difference. While there are some companies working toward selling single seats on private aircraft the way you would on commercial, most of the time you have the whole plane to yourself. In fact on average only 2.5 seats per flight are occupied according to industry estimates. This means that if you fly the PC-12 by yourself from San Francisco to Palm Springs it could cost you $9k round trip. But, If you took the kids or some friends along with you, it works out to $380 a person which is a pretty good deal for a private flight.
Pick the right location
Some destinations are more expensive than others because it will be harder for the company to reposition the aircraft. There are almost always cheap private flights to Vegas because its popular and easy to keep the aircraft booked. The other consideration is landing fees and ramp fees for private terminals. At some international airports like San Francisco (SFO) this can add several hundred dollars to each leg of a trip.
Flying private doesn’t have to be expensive if you choose the right aircraft for the job, plan your trip carefully and fill the seats. It is always good to have a private flight as an option so check out our app to see what your dream flight would cost with KinectAir. You can also signup for our launch traveler list through the KinectAir app.
By Ben Howard, CTO KinectAir