The Big Idea: The Omniscient App
One of the glaring shortcomings of private aviation is the lack of an industry-wide app that offers guaranteed pricing and real-time information. A half dozen of the larger firms have invested tens of millions in developing apps for their own fleets. But most aviation firms use a private-label version of generic software from Avinode or FlyEasy, which provides the same data to all subscribers and lists estimated costs rather than final prices, often with a time lag.
A perfect storm of unprecedented demand, shortage of aircraft and a highly fractured mom-and-pop operator base has kept most firms from developing their own apps. The majority of providers have fewer than 10 aircraft, according to data service Jetnet, while only 10 have more than 50 jets in their fleets. These small companies are unlikely to have the resources to invest in new technologies.
“A lot of the smaller businesses run on spreadsheets or an antiquated Windows desktop tool,” says chief product officer at Wheels Up, Gene McKenna, a former Groupon executive now overseeing a 100-plus development team. “We’ve been focusing on scheduling optimization across these platforms to make it simpler for them to get real-time information to us.”
“The more data points we gather, the more robust our algorithm becomes,” adds Vinay Roy, chief product officer of Vista Global Holding. “As our user database grows, these artificial-intelligence capabilities will become even more sophisticated, allowing for further reduced response times and competitive pricing.”
Sentient Jet president and CEO Andrew Collins admits that converting the mom-and-pops to 21st-century technology is likely to be slow and expensive but believes it will happen “in a fairly short” period. “This is an incredibly complex and dynamic market,” he says. “But it’s also not big enough, as opposed to the commercial-airline sector, to easily tackle the permutations that pass through it.” Permutations such as real-time scheduling and instant pricing, the inability to order catering online and expenses like fuel surcharges.
But industry leaders are determined to have an app that crosses the highly fractured aviation divide. Sentient Jet, Wheels Up and Vista-subsidiary XO offer instant pricing. All have invested in both technology and brainpower to make their apps faster, more accurate and useful for private fliers, many of whom are new to the industry. Sentient’s app, for instance, has a trip tracker and day-of-flight information in its latest update.
Wheels Up’s most recent version has similar features, with plans to add luxury resorts and yacht charters for seamless travel—the aim is to become the Expedia for high-net-worth individuals. It also hopes to introduce a social-networking component between members.
Beyond the advantage a cross-industry app provides against less-funded competitors, the leaders see it as something that has to match the personal digitization revolutionizing the rest of society. “We want our customers to have our white-glove experience, but we also want them to feel they’re in control and able to resolve their issues online,” says McKenna. “That’s only going to happen with an app.”
Ultra-Long-Range Jet: Dassault Falcon 10x
Dassault’s new flagship is going after the Bombardier Global 7500 and Gulfstream G700 to claim the title of the world’s largest business jet. The French airframe maker says the 10X will have the largest interior in its class. The cabin width of nine feet, one inch—eight inches wider than the Global 7500—is one stat Dassault points to, but the 10X also has six feet, eight inches of headroom. The ultra-long-range jet can fly for 15 hours, with a maximum range of 8,631 nm at Mach 0.85, which translates to nonstop flights from New York to Hong Kong or from Los Angeles to Sydney. Also notable: a flight ceiling of 51,000 feet lifts it above most weather. The four-zone interior can be customized with lounge and entertainment areas, work space and bedroom with shower. The 10X’s advanced technology also keeps it competitive with Bombardier and Gulfstream, which are investing heavily in digitizing and simplifying cockpits as well. Dassault has borrowed features from its Rafale fighter jet, such as heads-up displays and digital flight controls that correspond with the new single power-lever Smart Throttle to ease pilot workload. Its FalconEye is a vision system to identify obstacles for takeoff and landing in poor weather conditions. Expected certification for this next-gen jet is 2025.
Light Jet: HondaJet Elite S
Over its 20-year history, the HondaJet has moved into an evolution based on a revolution. When it made its first flight in 2003, the HondaJet was an efficient but funky-looking very light jet, with over-the-wing-engine mounts, four seats and an all-composite body. Announced last year, the eight-person Elite S is a step change from the previous Elite, with 200 pounds of increased payload and more advanced avionics. All HondaJet models have the same best-in-class cruise speed of 485 mph at 30,000 feet. The 1,653-mile range is also top of its category, as is the flight ceiling of 43,000 feet. But the Elite S has automatic flight controls, which take over if the aircraft moves outside the safe-flight envelope, as well as under-speed protection that prevents stalls. The S also boasts new data-comm functionality that turns voice controls into text-based messaging with air-traffic control and ground operations. The company partnered with Bongiovi Aviation on a speaker-less cabin sound system integrated into the panels. The livery even received a shot of pizzazz with new deep-sea-blue, gunmetal and luxe-gold options.
Turboprop: Daher TBM 960
The French manufacturer Daher recently unveiled the luxury version of its popular TBM platform. The executive aircraft’s credentials are enhanced by its new silver, red and black Sirocco livery, courtesy of designer Alexandre Echasseriau, part of the customization list. But the Prestige interior is where this turboprop comes into its own. The new environmental control system, LED ambience lighting and electronically dimmable windows are controlled via a central passenger-comfort display. Designing aircraft known more for function than luxury, Daher upped its game with new ergonomic seats, as well as USB power plugs for each guest—even a headset hanger on each seat. But the real digital innovation is in the cockpit, with its dual-channel Engine and Propeller Electronic Control system running the Pratt & Whitney Canada’s PT6E-66XT engine, which not only reduces pilot stress but also optimizes fuel burn. The TBM 960 has a highly economical cruise speed of 354 mph at 57 gph. Another nice touch, the G3000 integrated flight deck, or what Daher calls an “electronic copilot,” has an icing protection system, flight-envelope monitoring and an emergency-descent mode. There’s also Garmin’s HomeSafe Emergency Autoland system, which brings the aircraft safely to the nearest suitable runway if the pilot is incapacitated. Plus Daher added Garmin’s GWX 8000 Doppler weather radar to the cockpit. Deliveries have started in Europe, with the US awaiting certification.
Executive Helicopter: ACH160
With the launch model having just arrived in the US, the ACH160—the executive version of Airbus’s standard H160—is much more than its spacious, leather-clad interior. True, it has a quiet, comfortable and climate-controlled ride, with such niceties as personal USB ports and individual air-conditioning vents. Airbus also partnered with yacht-design firm Harrison Eidsgaard to offer a custom interior utilizing multiple seating configurations and materials. But the real award goes to the 68 patents that transformed this new executive helicopter into a much safer flying experience. The autopilot, in recovery mode, arrests vortex-ring-state free falls—a leading cause of helicopter accidents that often happens before the pilot even notices. The ACH160 also has an auto stabilizer for when pilots lose their visual bearings in brownout conditions. Its Helionix 3 avionics suite is designed with a simplified display, so pilots are not overwhelmed by information. “It’s a different type of piloting experience that’s more intuitive and much safer,” says test pilot Olivier Gensse, who has been with the H160 program since its inception. Other noteworthy stats: top cruise speed of 178 mph and maximum endurance of 4 hours, 30 minutes.
Interior Concept: Altea 7500 Pod Concept
In counterpoint to the open layouts currently dominating interior design, Altea has a new pod concept that promotes privacy. The London-based aviation and design firm created this layout to coincide with Bombardier’s delivery of its 100th Global 7500 in March. “We thought, what if you’ve got six colleagues, maybe from a hedge fund, flying to Europe?” says Robin Dunlop, the firm’s founding partner. “They’ll want to work in their own spaces and maybe have a communal area where they can meet up later to talk business or watch a movie.”
The concept boasts privacy zones, a lounge that converts into a spacious bedroom and a spa-like bathroom and shower. Architectural lighting, natural materials and ample stowage complete the experience. “We like to say it’s privacy in a private jet,” explains Dunlop, adding that he and his team drew inspiration from midcentury Scandinavian design. The interior employs a mix of vegan leather for elements such as seatback covers and natural larch wood for sidewall and ceiling panels. “We aimed for a simple-material palette that’s light and airy with a spark of color,” he says. “You know, playful.”
Flying Roadster: Klein Vision AirCar
Klein Vision’s AirCar has jumped ahead of the half-dozen competitors in the flying-roadster sector by attaining its certificate of airworthiness from the Slovak Transport Authority. The company is working on EASA and FAA certification, with the goal of moving toward mass production as early as next year.
In road mode, the two-seat composite AirCar has a sleek, futuristic look, complete with a spoiler in back. The flying roadster unfolds its wings and tail like a huge toy to transform from car to airplane. After landing, the switch to road-ready takes less than three minutes: Each of the two main wings folds into the body, and the tail surfaces retract so the machine will fit into a car-sized garage. It won’t be able to simply take off in gridlocked traffic, but if its operator wants to shorten the commute between two cities, utilizing local airports can cut travel time dramatically.
The beauty of this flying car is that it drops neatly into existing infrastructure and rules. Juiced by a BMW 1.6-liter car engine powering both the wheels and propeller, it will have a 622-mile range and cruise speed of 186 mph, while it should reach 100 to 112 mph on the flat. Takeoff speed is 75 mph. The prototype for the production model will be ready this year: Depending on the luxury features, avionics and other equipment, the price will range between $500,000 and $1 million.
Card & Membership Program: FlyExclusive’s Jet Club
Win-wins don’t come along often, especially in private aviation’s topsy-turvy membership structure. There are typically so few common denominators between programs that it’s usually a comparison of apples to oranges.
At first glance, FlyExclusive’s Jet Club also seems like a puzzler because, instead of the fixed hourly rate that most programs offer, total pricing includes a daily rate, an hourly rate and a monthly membership fee to be able to access its three categories of Citation business jets.
The North Carolina–based fractional and membership provider owns 85 aircraft, so it can offer members guaranteed availability—a huge advantage over competitors in the current aircraft-challenged market. But CEO Jim Segrave figured that a more flexible way to price flight hours would benefit members with different needs. Most flights are priced using average rates to cover shorter trips of about 1.5 hours, so longer flights have a built-in penalty for duration. “It was a big disincentive for our members to fly coast to coast,” says Segrave.
“This changed the dynamic, since our hourly rates are now much cheaper than our competitors’.”
The daily rate covers the program’s fixed costs while the hourly rate revolves around actual flight time for specific trips. Jet Club’s other advantage is the ability to move between aircraft. “There are no daily minimums or segment fees,” says Segrave. “And the more our members fly in a day, the more they save.”
The only time FlyExclusive’s pricing doesn’t work to the client’s advantage is for 30-minute flights. “Someone flying short hops is probably better-suited to a company with KingAirs,” says Segrave. “Instead, we’re seeing a lot more customers doing long-distance flights.”
Space Tourism: SpaceX
The past 12 months have revealed the new space race. Mercury-style rockets, supersonic jets and high-altitude balloons have entered the realm of NASA to offer private individuals a taste of space, even if it lasts merely minutes. While Blue Origin and Virgin Galactic had the celebrity-heavy launches in 2021, Inspiration4, using SpaceX’s reusable Falcon 9 rocket, was the most successful venture. The three-day orbital mission aboard the Dragon capsule “Resilience” had all the trappings of a Star Trek prequel with its multicultural, all-civilian crew: one billionaire and three specialists, united by a love of space. Of course, raising nearly $250 million for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital was laudable, too.
SpaceX’s second noteworthy mission was Ax-1, an April trip by three businessmen and a former astronaut to the International Space Station. The journey aboard the Dragon capsule “Endeavour,” organized by Axiom Space, included copious research by the passengers for the Mayo Clinic, Montreal Children’s Hospital, Cleveland Clinic and other global organizations.
Like professional astronauts, all the participants underwent a regimen of preparation, including centrifuge training and inhabiting close quarters to approximate being in the capsule—which has about the same interior space as a large SUV.
Two things were key to these missions’ historical significance. First: They were the inaugural orbital and ISS spaceflights paid for by private individuals and launched by a private company. Second: The capsules were controlled autonomously. Combine the two and space tourism suddenly becomes more than a joy ride, with space walks and lunar orbits now real possibilities.
Large-Cabin Business Jet: Gulfstream G400
Gulfstream began planning the G400 as a best-in-class business jet back in 2009. With certification expected in 2025, it’s the smallest member of an aircraft family that includes the G500 and G600. In the initial designs, clients mandated space, comfort, ergonomics and technology; they essentially wanted a modern jet with transcontinental range. The final rendition includes a spacious cabin, with choices of luxurious materials and mission-specific configurations across two and a half zones. The layouts can include seating for up to 12, lounges with tables, an office area and sleeping for five. The G400 is part of the large-cabin category, but its fuselage is smaller than its siblings’, though with the same cross-section and headroom. The design includes advanced soundproofing for a quiet ride, with 10 windows that Gulfstream claims are the largest in business aviation. The cockpit has Gulfstream’s Symmetry Flight Deck, a shared platform across the newest generation of Gulfstreams, with active-control sidesticks and touchscreen displays to ease pilot workload. With its Pratt & Whitney PW812GA engines, the G400 has a range of 4,200 nm at Mach 0.85 and max cruise speed of Mach 0.90.
Aircraft Interior: RH G650 Jet
The home-furnishings behemoth has turned its exacting eye to private charter jets with the launch of RH One, a Gulfstream G650 that accommodates a dozen passengers. We loved the soft, simple, almost monochromatic design of the interior, decorated entirely in brushed European pale-white oak, not least because it’s a fresh change from the muted-but-sterile palettes of most corporate jets and the off-whites with occasional splashes of color of privately owned aircraft. This wooden sanctuary calls to mind a stateroom onboard a 1930s ocean liner, particularly with its stainless-steel embellishments and porthole-style windows. The interior is fitted with 12 seats, clad in charcoal-linen and gray-leather upholstery, as well as hand-woven carpeting. The abundance of wood might not be to everyone’s tastes, but the overarching sense of calm conveys a unique, classy vibe. Assembling that much joinery so flawlessly was also a technical achievement. RH One’s exterior will also be identifiable from its two-toned metallic paint job with the Champagne-hued undercarriage.
Super-Midsize Jet: Bombardier Challenger 3500
Taking an old aircraft and refitting it with a more modern interior could be a potential disaster. But in the case of Bombardier’s Challenger 350, the longstanding best seller in the super-midsize segment, it made sense to convert it into the new 3500. The 350 has the lowest operating costs and highest reliability in its class, two qualities that will be passed to its heir apparent. The Montreal jet maker decided that instead of developing a new airframe, it would re-create the interior with features influenced by its ultra-long-range Global 7500. For example, the Nuage seating, sculpted for the 3500, has similar ergonomics as those introduced on the 7500 two years ago, including the zero-gravity position for maximizing comfort. Details such as the redesigned galley, haptic-touch technology and cabin-functionality control via your smartphone are also differentiators. The best thing: The 3500’s $26.7 million price is the same as the Challenger 350, which Bombardier still offers, though it will be phased out once the 3500 enters service in the second half of this year.
Sustainability Program: Victor Carbon-Offset Program
In 2019, private aviation firm Victor published a 12-page insert in a national newspaper outlining the facts about emissions from private jets. Founder Clive Jackson received serious pushback from other aviation firms arguing that the disclosures would damage the industry’s reputation. But Victor redoubled its efforts, becoming private aviation’s first carbon-neutral provider.
Now, Victor has guaranteed it will offset carbon emissions from its flights by no less than 200 percent. It is not waiting for its clients but paying hundreds of thousands of dollars each year from its own bottom line for the offsets. It’s also being unusually transparent to avoid any charge of “greenwashing.”
The company’s audited report for 2021 reveals that its jets flew a total of 2,917,223 nautical miles last year, burning 2,401,385 gallons of fuel and creating 27,906 tons of emissions. To offset this impact, Victor purchased 60,128 carbon credits, invested in 14 projects around the world, including the Rimba Raya Biodiversity Reserve Project in Borneo, the Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary Project in Cambodia and the Karacabey Wind Power Project in Turkey. Of the total credits, 93 percent were purchased by Victor, with the remaining 7 percent bought by its clients. Victor sources its carbon credits through third-party accredited providers Vertis and South Pole, so the programs are trackable down to the last dollar spent.
“Our 200 percent offset scheme takes the decision out of people’s hands by taking the steps to mitigate the carbon emissions on all our flights as standard, with no additional cost to the customer,” says Jackson, adding that Victor encourages clients to balance the “privilege” of private flying with “obligations to the planet.”
One to Watch: Stephen Fitzpatrick
Formula 1 racing, trading natural gas and the emerging eVTOL segment don’t seem like logical bedfellows. But entrepreneur Stephen Fitzpatrick made the link between all three during a 2015 F1 event in Brazil. Then owner of the Manor Racing Formula 1 team, he had flown 15 hours only to spend another four in gridlocked traffic outside São Paulo. He also owned UK energy distributor Ovo and decided to jump into the fledgling electric-air-taxi segment which, in 2016, seemed like a sci-fi concept.
“There were no visible competitors,” says Fitzpatrick, 44, described by colleagues as a “force of nature.” He had no background in aviation. He’d also had zero experience in energy retailing when he launched Ovo in 2009 but grew it into the UK’s second-largest energy distributor. “We started looking at what we had with F1—advanced composites, hybrid powertrains, crash safety—and realized we could bring that to aircraft,” he says.
Since 2016, Fitzpatrick has spent many millions hiring aviation specialists and aeronautics engineers for Vertical Aerospace’s facility in Bristol, the UK’s leading aerospace hub, as well as partnering with industry stalwarts Rolls-Royce, Honeywell and Microsoft. In December 2021, Vertical was listed on the New York Stock Exchange after merging with Broadstone Acquisition Corp., a $2.2 billion special-acquisition company.
Vertical has pre-orders of about $6 billion for its electric aircraft, the latest being the VX4, a svelte-looking five-seater designed to fly over 100 miles at speeds up to 200 mph. Vertical will begin flying a full-scale prototype later this summer, with certification in 2025.
Unlike in 2016, the eVTOL field is now a winner-takes-all horse race, with competitors like Joby Aviation, Wisk Aero and Lilium having not only big institutional backers but also working demonstrators. A half dozen others, less funded but with interesting designs, could be contenders.
“The difference between us and our competitors is that we’re working with established aerospace suppliers,” says Fitzpatrick. “We’re not pretending we’re reinventing aviation, but instead choosing the lowest-risk path to certification.”
One of the field’s biggest challenges is striking a balance between aerospace’s conservative culture and having the courage to innovate. “You can move really fast in the prototype phase,” he says.
“But in the end, all your processes have to be consistent with the world’s highest safety standards. We’re doing both.”