Once reserved for the elite, private-jet usage has surged since
Sept. 11, with more travelers seeking convenient alternatives to
the time-consuming security procedures of commercial aviation.
“Just weeks after the attacks, everyone started digging into
their pockets,” said Wayne Rizzi, president of Los Angeles-based
air charter brokerage Air Royale. “After 9/11, people gravitated to
something that was not viable in the past to see if it could work.
Some found that it did.”
Time-pressed business travelers and luxury-minded leisure
travelers are driving the growth in the sector, attracted by
on-demand availability and pricing that can rival first-class and
last-minute commercial-air bookings.
In the year following Sept. 11, charter company sales grew 10
percent, according to the National Business Aviation Association,
propelling it to a $2 billion industry.
Air Royale said its business bookings grew 8 percent in the last
two years, with leisure bookings up 12 to 15 percent.
Pat Brown, an adventure travel specialist with Woodlake Travel
Services in Houston, said her clients are drawn to private jet
travel because of the convenience. Though definitely a high-end
product, Brown said, "It's like having a balcony on a cruise ship.
Once you've had one, you don't want to travel any other way."
Travel agents can earn commissions on private jet services but,
Brown noted, companies could do a better job of marketing to travel
agents. "It's just a matter of educating agents as to what's out
there and their niceties," she said.
With more companies targeting the growing consumer base, private
aviation services now resemble commercial frequent flier programs,
complete with Web booking sites.
Delta AirElite, a subsidiary of Delta Air Lines specializing in
charters, launched its “Fleet Membership” program in February
allowing travelers to pay in advance for their hours in the air. In
the traditional world of jet charters, consumers would pay for all
legs of a flight, whether they used them or not.
Similar pay-as-you-fly services account for one of the fastest
growing areas of private aviation.
“It has become a very popular way of using private aircraft,”
said Joe Moeggenberg, president of the Cincinnati-based Aviation
Research Group Zineth, a Sudbury, Mass.-based travel technology
company, launched AirCharter.com in August to lures businesses
looking for affordable options to airline ownership.
“They can have the same or similar aircraft on demand without
making a huge investment on an aircraft upfront,” said Richard
Walsh, a vice president at Zineth.
The Quincy, Mass.-based company CharterAuction.com has a service
that allows flight operators to bid on consumer itineraries.
The company has grown more than 8,700 percent since it was
launched three years ago, and now has monthly revenue of more than
$1 million, according to CEO Nate McKelvey.
Frederick Gevalt, CEO of the Air Charter Guide, said there is
concern that more pricing competition could hurt the industry.
“The whole industry is unbelievably competitive,” he said. “Some
owners are pricing themselves down to where they are too low. If
the owners and operators aren’t careful they are going to
commoditize this business.”
The average price for charters, however, has remained relatively
stable over the last two years, according to the Air Charter Guide,
and some pricing almost matches commercial fares.
From JFK to Los Angeles, for example, Air Royale offers a
12-passenger Gulfstream jet for $24,750, or roughly $2,062 per
person. It has access to an eight-person jet at $11,500, or roughly
$1,438 per person. Comparatively, a last-minute booking recently on
Orbitz yielded a $2,221 first-class seat on American Airlines.
The travelers benefiting most from charters are going to small
markets with limited service, the “airline refugees” that Gevalt
says make up a third of the new charter business.
“They are the people who can’t make it work with the airlines,”
he said. “They are the business travelers who are paying for a
full-ticket on short notice and who gets stuck in seat 28B with a
screaming kid behind him. They’re the ones who are fed up.”
With access to about 5,300 U.S. airports, compared with 558 used
by commercial airlines, charters often can get travelers closer to
their destinations. The demand for private charters is reaching
leisure travel. San Jose, Calif.-based Classic Custom Vacations has
teamed with Blue Star Jets to offer a charter jet option. It pays 5
“This seemed like the next logical step for the vacations we
sell,” said Bob Hohman, president of Classic Custom Vacations.