The Big Idea: Sustainable Jet Juice
A jet fuel derived from old cooking oil may not sound all that sexy, but it doesn’t have to. It’s already the most effective way to make business aviation greener. Winglets, aerodynamic shapes, space-age composites and avionics all contribute to reducing the carbon footprint of private jets, but they’re lightweights next to sustainable aviation fuel (SAF). Compared to fossil jet fuel, SAF in its pure, unblended form cuts CO2 emissions by up to 80 percent, reducing polluting particulate matter by 90 percent and eliminating sulfur oxide.
“We are turning trash into treasure,” says Chris Cooper, vice president for renewable aviation at Neste, one of a number of providers focused on the fledgling biofuel market for planes. Cooper notes that private jets burn 1.8 billion gallons of fossil fuel each year. “That’s a deep, dark footprint,” he says.
The real beauty of SAF? It works with any aircraft engine that burns Jet A fuel, skipping the need for modification.
“The plane doesn’t notice the difference, but the environment does,” says Ed Bolen, president and CEO of the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA). The trade association has thrown its considerable weight behind industrywide adoption of SAF. “After years of solutions that provide small percentage gains in sustainability, we’ve found the big thing,” he says.
The last year has been a turning point. NetJets has committed to at least 100 million gallons over the next decade, while San Francisco’s Signature Flight Support is the world’s first fixed-based operator to convert its entire supply for business aviation. It uses existing oil pipelines to move the biofuel into San Francisco, says Cooper.
Corporations as diverse as Nike, Deloitte and Amazon have pledged to come on board. Microsoft’s Bill Gates, the country’s largest buyer of SAF, points out its cost—three times that of fossil fuel— remains an inhibitor. “It’ll be interesting to see how we can scale that up and can you get that green premium down from 300 percent,” he said at a recent conference.
One way, argue proponents, is through financial incentives. The NBAA, Neste and dozens of other aviation firms support a blender’s tax credit. The credit aims to support SAF producers as they build biorefineries, and with increases in supply, biofuel prices will come down. Neste expects to produce 515 million gallons of SAF in 2023, nearly 15 times current levels. The NBAA says biofuel production could top 1 billion gallons by 2025.
How quickly prices come down and infrastructure goes up are the big unknowns. Cooper believes SAF adoption is inevitable because it’s propelled by the clients in the cabin. Firms like VistaJet report 80 percent of its clients have paid to offset the carbon output of their flights. “We’re seeing the biggest movement in business aviation in a long time,” Cooper says, “and the consumer is driving it.”
Flying Car: AeroMobil AM4
AeroMobil’s AM4 has the sleekest design and highest price tag of the top “roadable flying machines.” A two-seater that transforms from car to plane in under three minutes, the AM4 is heading for the first deliveries in 2023. The company says the fourth-gen vehicle is the result of over 300,000 hours of engineering and design and has recently completed 10,000-plus hours of flight testing. Its main rival, the Dutch PAL-V Liberty, is a tilting three-wheeler in ground mode, which has already won certification for road use. As a gyroplane, the PAL-V will require an additional flying license and a driver’s license.
The Slovakian AeroMobil, by contrast, has four wheels and is pitting the AM4’s style against sports cars from makers such as Aston Martin and Ferrari, with features like upward-hinging doors that reflect automotive’s racier end. But no Ferrari carries a ballistic parachute or has wings that swing forward for flight. The hybrid engine clocks stats that include a cruising speed of 160 mph in the air and 100 mph on the road and, with one pilot, a range of 460 miles in the sky and 320 on land. From $1.7 million
Sustainability Initiatives: NetJets
Many aviation firms talk about sustainability, but none has made a more robust effort than NetJets. Enrollment in its Blue Skies program more than doubled in the last six months, with NetJets owners purchasing carbon credits to ensure their flight hours are carbon-neutral. Companywide, NetJets says that 38,543 metric tons have been offset in the last six months, and its fleet has flown about 750,000 nautical miles on sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), with substantially lower emissions than traditional jet fuel. Its European operations have offset about 1.9 million metric tons since going carbon-neutral in 2012.
In February, NetJets committed to purchasing at least 100 million gallons of SAF over the next decade. Even more significantly, it’s investing in building a new biorefinery with its supplier, Waste-Fuel, and has plans to support four more in the near future. At full capacity, its biorefinery will convert 1 million tons of solid waste into 30 million gallons of SAF annually. The fuel reduces the impact on local landfills, lowers methanol in the atmosphere and, for business-aviation firms, shifts their reputation from polluters to responsible corporate citizens.
Executive Helicopter: Bell 525
The clean-sheet design on Bell’s 525 promises to set new standards in the executive helicopter segment. Expected to be certified by the FAA this year, the chopper has impressive stats: It’s 29 percent quieter, with windows that are up to 40 percent larger than one competitor’s, and its baggage hold is 50 percent larger than another’s. Ninety-five percent of the main rotor vibrations are isolated from the airframe. More perks, like a best-in-class speed of 160 knots (with an upper limit of 175 knots), a range of 580 nautical miles at 145 knots, fly-by-wire flight controls and the first helicopter application of Garmin’s G5000H avionics suite (with a touchscreen system that’s incredibly intuitive and comprehensive), translate to a new level of flight experience.
The 525’s VIP versions, which range from 4 to 10 cabin seats, will have bespoke interiors by Mecaer Aviation. The completions center outside Milan has earned a well-deserved reputation for the meticulous, intricate work of its helicopter interiors. The 525 will also have premium options such as a telescopic table with pop-up monitor or a central cabinet with an extractable table. That 580-nautical-mile range makes it a serious but comfortable long-distance commuter, while the fly-by-wire controls, avionics and side-stick placement give pilots the kind of 21st-century flight experience more typically found in private jets. Price upon request
Bizliner: ACJ TwoTwenty
The new TwoTwenty promises to disrupt the top end of the business-jet realm by outsizing its competitors. It’s so big, in fact, that Airbus Corporate Jets (ACJ) is calling it the Xtra Large Bizjet, a category that didn’t really exist until now. The jet has 785 square feet of interior space divided across six living zones, including a bedroom with a king-size bed and a full shower. The TwoTwenty, based on Airbus’s A220-100 commercial airliner, which has a possible 135 seats, will limit seats to 18 max. Twenty-five percent more fuel efficient and 50 percent quieter than previous-generation aircraft, it has a more aerodynamic frame, a lighter composite structure and Pratt & Whitney’s PW1500G engines.
ACJ hasn’t been shy about claiming the aircraft has 30 percent more floor space and 30 percent lower operating costs than competitors. While Comlux will be the exclusive completions partner for the first 15 aircraft, Sylvain Mariat, ACJ’s head of creative design, will assist in customizing TwoTwenty interiors for each buyer, helping clients choose between a lounge area and business center, the tones of woods, cabin colors and credenzas, just as a traditional interior designer would.
The jet has a range of 5,650 nautical miles, with the ability to fly more than 12 hours nonstop, connecting London and Los Angeles or Tokyo and Dubai. ACJ already has six orders in the bag. Price upon request
Ultra-Wide Body Jet: Dassault Falcon 6X
The Falcon 6X is Dassault’s latest affirmation that comfort begins with space. Introduced as the first “ultra-wide-body” business jet, the 6X will be four inches taller (with 6 feet 6 inches of headroom) and 10 inches wider, at 8 feet 6 inches, than both the 7X and the 8X. With a max range of 5,500 nautical miles and a cruise speed of Mach 0.85, the 6X can fly nonstop from Los Angeles to London. And that’s not even its top speed, which can climb to Mach 0.90, or 690.5 mph.
Bespoke cabin designs for each client, which Dassault will oversee, can accommodate 12 to 16 passengers across different zones, including a relaxation area and a business center. Thirty windows, plus a skylight, bathe the interior in natural light. The 6X’s filtration system is the same found in many hospital ICUs, refreshing air up to 10 times faster than systems used in office buildings, a plus in Covid times.
The 6X’s fly-by-wire technology makes flights more precise while reducing pilot workload. The plane requires less than 3,000 feet of runway for landing, and its low-speed, steep-approach capability allows access to more challenging airports, such as Aspen or Yellowstone. We also admire its FalconEye technology, an industry-first vision system that combines terrain mapping with real-time night-vision thermal images, improving safety, especially during lousy weather or low-visibility conditions. More than the sum of its parts, Dassault’s newest aircraft pairs size with technology to create an award-worthy new class of business jet. $47 million
Interiors Concept: Massari Design
Having a yacht designer create a private-jet interior sounds like a risky proposition. But the two disciplines have more in common than shared luxury, namely a lack of affinity for sharp corners and weighty finishes. Designer Alessandro Massari lent his hand to a Boeing interior for the first time, fusing the upper echelons of the air and water worlds with a delicate design that shows his maritime heritage. Boeing Business Jets’ brief was for “something that isn’t out there but would stand out,” says Massari, whose studio is in the yacht-building city of Fano, Italy.
The design team opted for a cozy but clean look, employing light colors and simple curves. The 737 MAX 7’s cabin volume allowed for a large common area, an owner’s office, sleeping quarters and an en suite with full-height shower. Massari wanted to create a “floating interior in a floating object.” That was accomplished by not attaching the side cabinets to the floor and by using indirect lighting on the bed for a suspended look. Also included is a pop-up rolling monitor for entertainment and business, to free up space. Glass edges on armrests allow cabin control at a touch. “We relied on our long-term yachting experience to face the challenges that come with working in limited space and with many technical and ergonomic requirements,” says Massari, adding, pun intended, “Our team was excited to let our creativity fly.”
Limited Edition: Cirrus 8000 Limited Edition SR22T
This has serious style. It’s no surprise that all eight sporty-hued models have already been bought. The limited-edition SR combines “its iconic shape with an unapologetic color scheme,” says Ivy McIver, director of Cirrus’s SR line. A luminescent green on the underside of the fuselage and wings complements black and silver on the upper fuselage and tail. “We gave customers the option to choose other col- ors, but seven of the eight chose to stick with that brave, bold scheme,” says McIver.
Cirrus flew its first SR20 single-engine airplane in 1995. At the time, the no-frills, less expensive and pilot-friendly aircraft, with a parachute and industry-first glass cockpit, was a game changer. It was also the first production aircraft with all-composite construction and flat-panel avionics. The SR20 gave rise to a whole series that included the SR22 and turbocharged SR22T. With the 8,000th member of the SR series expected to be completed this year, Cirrus is celebrating the milestone with this luxe, instantly recognizable limited edition.
The design team found inspiration in air-strips, including markers and hashes, adding diagonal patterns inside and out. They also used intricate green stitching in the leather seats and along the edges of the controls. The result: a brave but beautiful look for one of private aviation’s best-selling series. About $1.2 million
Private Air Terminal: PS at LAX
PS’s redesigned private terminal at LAX, scheduled to be completed by summer, offers a sanctuary with 12 suites for commercial air travelers. The private terminal—set in a separate structure from the rest of the airport—minimizes the person-to-person touchpoints of the public terminal by offering a private check-in area with TSA personnel, while a chauffeured BMW sweeps clients from suite to airplane door for boarding ahead of other passengers. PS at LAX says its members will encounter no more than five people, including TSA and PS staff, while typical travelers could see hundreds, if not thousands, of people in LAX’s main terminals.
The suites have an entirely new look, thanks to Los Angeles designer Cliff Fong. Each is a pre-flight relaxation chamber with a tasteful, residential feel that includes plentiful seating, a bathroom, a bed, an entertainment center and a pantry. Members can order complimentary meals or have food delivered from leading LA restaurants, plus book in-suite massages, manicures and haircuts and access the building’s private shower spa. Other bonuses: the ability to drive up to the private terminal for valet parking and, upon return, have your car be fueled, washed and detailed. $4,500 annual membership. Member suite-rental rate: $3,250 for up to four people on a one-way trip. Non-member rate: $4,350 for up to four travelers, with $800 for each additional guest.
FXAir’s approach to charter flights is an admirable response to the commoditization of that segment. Instead of competing only on price, its parent company, Directional Aviation, has a business model that includes carving out a new niche of service that straddles the charter and fractional realms. With its preferred-access fleet, it combines the more non-committal and less expensive traits of chartering along with the superior customer service and greater focus on safety found with fractional ownership.
The internal fleet consists of more than 30 jets that have just moved out of fractional service from sister company Flexjet. Owning the planes provides transparency of their history while giving FXAir control over the selection of flight crew and pilots. For outside operators not part of the fleet, the company’s chief safety officer reviews aircraft, pilots and each flight. The company jets, ranging from Challenger 300s to transoceanic Global Express models, extend charter from just regional flights to coast-to-coast and international, a rare offering in that industry.
Like other operators, FXAir offers dynamic pricing so members can take advantage of flying on off-peak days and times, but its $100,000 Aviator Account has standard perks such as fixed coast-to-coast flat rates, free Wi-Fi and de-icing, and complimentary aircraft upgrades. Its app allows booking within 24 hours of departure time, and e-mail approvals replace contracts for each flight. While that Aviator level is admittedly more expensive than many charter operators, the details of the program are well-thought out, designed for fliers who want a high-end fractional experience minus the loftier fees.
Membership: Magellan Explorer
With last year’s exodus from commercial flying, smart private-jet companies adapted their traditional programs to accommodate new clients. Magellan’s pay-as-you-go membership was one of the first to untangle the confusing knot that first-class exiles faced as they navigated the unrecognizable terms and wildly different prices of charter and jet-card services. Magellan’s entry-level Explorer Membership offered easy-to-understand terms. Explorers could access jets from model year 2000 and forward with a 24-hour callout time, sans blackout days (generous terms considering that holidays are prime travel windows). The 12-month locked-in rate also added peace of mind for fliers seeking to avoid financial surprises. No peak travel or fuel surcharges meant additional transparency. Other positives included guaranteed backup and recovery if your aircraft suddenly went off-line. Magellan also created a Premium Membership with newer-model aircraft and shorter callout times. The target audience—new-comers who questioned how often they intended to fly—responded enthusiastically, realizing the answer was a lot, judging by March 2021, which set a record for the number of private charters booked across the US. The joiner’s fee for the Explorer Membership is $8,500, while the Premium Membership fee is $14,500.
Jet Interior: Alberto Pinto Interior Design
Besides having three times the space of some competitors’ large-body jets, the G-KELT, an ACJ320neo, has an interior filled with rich woodwork, leathers, bespoke lamps, artwork and, perhaps most notably, a bedroom suite with a king-size bed and private en suite bathroom with a real glass mirror—unusual for a jet—a marble sink and a shower, all courtesy of Yves Pickardt at Paris-based Alberto Pinto Interior Design. The first ACJ320neo with a bespoke interior, it reworks the rules of cabin design, pairing the visible details with concealed technical advances such as the sophisticated air-filtration system plus a built-in humidifier to add moisture, making an eight-hour journey much more comfortable. The wafer-thin marble and wood veneers minimize weight while retaining elegance. The plane’s executive seats convert into beds for transoceanic travel, and the footrests are a first for this type of aircraft.
Basel-based completions firm AMAC Aerospace executed the design and said the project was its most complicated ever, involving a year of collaboration with the plane’s London-based owner, Acropolis Aviation, and Pickardt to figure out solutions before work began. In its guise as a commercial jet, the ACJ320neo’s 12-by-90-foot cabin has up to 180 seats in rows. This 19-seat bespoke version has open-plan lounges, a dining-and- conference area and a full-size kitchen plus original artwork and boardroom materials. With its 6,000-nautical-mile range, the jet will be used by Acropolis to transport heads of state and CEOs from Moscow to LA, or London to Beijing.
One to Watch: JoeBen Bevirt
All the signs were there. As a child growing up on the California coast, JoeBen Bevirt built model vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) aircraft powered by tiny gas engines. He went on to study robotics and mechanical engineering at the University of California, Davis, working with VTOL pioneer Paul Moller, who developed the first electric quadcopter. Deciding he didn’t want to wait 20 years for battery technology to mature, Bevirt founded tech businesses (including one with DNA-sequencing robots and another using giant kites to harness electricity from the atmosphere) but came back to what might be called his first love, launching Joby Aviation in 2009. He said at a recent conference that if society could “move to electric, we could make a really, really big difference” in emissions and, ultimately, climate change.
Joby is the new king of what could be a metamorphosis in aviation. In 2019, the company announced funding by a group of investors, including Toyota, that made it eVTOL’s first unicorn. In December 2020, it announced its intention to acquire Uber Elevate, and two months later came the announcement that it was merging with Reinvent Technology Partners, giving it a valuation of $6.6 billion. Behind the financials, Bevirt’s goal is simple: “To save a billion people an hour a day.”
His vision, more Henry Ford than Wright brothers, sees the eVTOL as everyman transport, the way Ford viewed the Model T. Joby will break ground on a production facility this year and is working with several metropolitan areas on air-taxi networks. Its five-passenger model, with a 200 mph top speed and 150-mile range, should make its first commercial flights in 2024.
It’s just the start. “We are still in the early stages of a long undertaking,” Bevirt said recently. “And it’s going to take a massive ecosystem.” Clearly that electric- flight future he envisioned is no longer in a holding pattern.