Aircraft: More Options
Executives at flight options say that JetPass, the fractional ownership provider’s new 25-hour private flight program, has been in the works since 2003. However, the event that served as the impetus for JetPass’ launch took place two years earlier, when Marquis Jet partnered with NetJets, introduced the 25-hour concept, and turned business aviation on its head. Since then, private fliers have embraced the idea of buying 25 annual flight hours without having to purchase fractional shares. Marquis remains the leading 25-hour provider, and it has even convinced some of its clients to graduate to NetJets ownership.
To swipe a slice of the action, each of NetJets’ competitors started its own 25-hour program. Bombardier Flexjet and Delta AirElite teamed last year to offer Flexjet Membership, CitationShares recently launched Vector, and with JetPass, Flight Options has become the latest fractional company to repackage aircraft shares into 25-hour annual bundles. “It’s a recognition that the marketplace is demanding these alternative ways to get access to business jets,” says Flight Options Chief Marketing Officer Cameron Gowans.
JetPass offers fliers the choice of three price options: $99,900 (planes include the seven-passenger Beechjet 400A), $149,900 (Hawker 800 fleet), and $249,900 (Challenger 601, Gulfstream IV, Embraer Legacy, and others). Gowans claims these prices are 10 percent lower than those of JetPass’ competitors, and in regard to Marquis, at least, his assertion has merit. In Marquis’ program, access to a seven-passenger Cessna Citation V Ultra costs $109,900 per year, while 25 hours in a Gulfstream IV-SP sell for $299,000. Vector starts at $84,995 for 25 hours in a Cessna Citation CJ1, while Flexjet Membership costs $109,900 for 25 hours in a Learjet 31A.Federal excise tax and incidental fees for JetPass fliers traveling internationally are not included in these prices. Clients who join the program before January 2005 will be exempt from fuel surcharge fees for one year. Unused hours do not expire and can be refunded.
The rush toward the 25-hour fractional programs coincides with an increase in travelers flying with national charter brokers such as Sentient, which manages a fleet of aircraft from its network of local charter operators. While flying charter is less expensive than flying aboard a fractional flight, Gowans notes that JetPass offers several advantages.
First, the consistency of flights will be greater, because clients purchase hours on a specific aircraft; with charter, passengers generally purchase by cabin size. He also points out that private flight demand at times has exceeded supply, an issue that, he says, affects charter clients more than 25-hour clients. Charter brokers may not be able to reserve planes from their regular circuit of operators, especially during peak flying periods. And while fractional providers—Flight Options included—have had to hire charter aircraft during busy stretches, Gowans says that the company’s fleet of more than 200 aircraft should minimize the need for subcontracting.