How to charter a private jet


Bombardier Challenger 300

Chartering a private jet can be a complicated process for somebody who has never done it before. To make your life easier, Corporate Jet Investor has gone beyond the champagne and caviar to answer the questions that you were too afraid to ask your charter broker, from how much you can expect to pay to whether you should tip your pilot.

Your questions answered

What is a charter flight?

The difference between a charter flight and a scheduled flight on an airline is that a charter flight involves the passenger renting an entire aircraft to fly a specific route, as opposed to a seat.

Unlike fractional jet ownership or jet cards, a charter flight comes with no long-term commitment. You can call a charter broker to arrange a flight for you and then never call them again.

Air charter is also sometimes used interchangeably with air taxi. But where as air taxi tends to refer to short flights performed by executive aircraft containing less than six seats, charter flights vary in length and can be carried out by any type of aircraft.

A charter operator must be licensed in the same way as a taxi or minicab driver. Paying money for a private jet flight that is not operated by a certificated air carrier is sometimes referred to as ‘grey charter,’ but this term is misleading. “Flights are either legal or illegal; we should not confuse the matter by suggesting there may be something in between,” says Brian Johnson, director of operations at Appleby Aviation Limited.

How much does it cost to charter a private jet?

In the US, a 2.5 hour flight from New York to Florida will typically cost around $8,000 on a very light jet (known in the industry as VLJs), or around $15,000 for a large-cabin jet (not including tax). For international flights, you can pay over $100,000 – or as much as $150,000 – to fly from New York to London.

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For a short flight in Europe of up to 90 minutes, you can expect to pay between £3,000 ($4,600) and ($8,500) to fly four or five passengers on a very light jet.

For more guidance, the following prices were provided by Air Partner, a charter broker in the UK, based on a one-way flight from London Luton Airport to Nice Côte d’Azur International Airport:

Cessna Mustang (4 passengers): £6,500
Cessna Citation II (6 seats): £7,500
Cessna Citation XLS private jet (8 seats): £8,750
Cessna Citation Sovereign (9 passengers): £11,750
Embraer Legacy (13 seats): £14,950

Charter flights in China can be significantly more expensive, as passengers must pay the Civil Aviation Administration of China (CAAC) a ‘compensation fee’ of about $3,000 for every entry into China. This, as well as government fees, navigation charges, airport fees and handling costs, drives up the total cost of the flight.

How do I charter a private jet?

Private aviation might seem a lot more complex than commercial aviation, but it becomes a lot easier if you think of the aircraft operator as an airline and the charter broker as a travel agent.

You can charter a private jet either by speaking directly to an operator, or by approaching a charter broker who will arrange the flight on your behalf (you can find contact details easily online).

The first point of contact is letting the broker or operator know the details of your request, including a date, preferred time of arrival and number of passengers.

“We’ll ask the passenger where they want to get to, because if they’re travelling to a ski chalet, for example, there’s often an airport much closer than the one listed on the chalet’s website,” says Paul Cremer, commercial manager of Gama Aviation in the UK.

Some customers may have additional requests, such as catering, wheelchair access or a car (or helicopter) to transport them to and from the airport. “You will get some people who call up and know exactly what they want – even the cabin crew,” says Simon Wheatley, director of UK private jets at Air Partner.

After an initial telephone conversation, the broker or operator will send over quote by e-mail within an hour or two. Once the quote has been accepted (it may be possible to negotiate the price down), the customer will usually pay the full cost of the flight up front. Any additional costs incurred during the flight are settled afterwards.

The interior of a JetSuite Cessna Citation CJ3.

The interior of a JetSuite Cessna Citation CJ3.

What costs are included in my quote?

Airport fees, fuel, tax and catering are all relatively easy to project, so they should be included in your initial quote. The only ‘hidden’ cost that you need to be wary of is the cost of de-icing the aircraft.

One London airport charges a flat rate of £140 for de-icing, plus an additional £4.50 per litre of de-icing fluid used, but other airports can be less predictable. “It can vary from a couple of hundred pounds to several thousand,” says Wheatley. “A company like GlobeAir, which operates one model of aircraft [Cessna Citation Mustang], may be able to project de-icing costs upfront, but the costs for operators with mixed fleets are more variable.”

Patrick Margetson-Rushmore, chief executive of London Executive Aviation, says the difference in de-icing fees between two flights that are just one hour apart can balloon to as much as five times the price.

Still, not every flight is susceptible to de-icing and it is rare that it causes any major surprises. “Last year, we sent around 50 to 60 de-icing bills,” says Margetson-Rushmore. “The average fee was around £500, the highest was £2,000.”

Quentin Bond, account manager at Asia Jet in Hong Kong, says the company sees the highest fees in Russia and Japan.

Other additional costs may be incurred if delays force you to land outside of an airport’s operating hours – or at a different airport altogether – as well as by using the aircraft’s on board Wi-Fi or telephones.

In some regions – such as the Middle East – there can be a significant fee for using the VIP lounge. Bond says FBO charges are common in some cities in Asia (although not Hong Kong), but he describes the charges as “minimal.”

What tax do I have to pay on a private jet flight?

Passengers on domestic US charter flights must pay a 7.5 per cent excise tax, but this should really be included in your quote.

According to PrivateFly, an online charter broker: “Generally, private jet flights are exempt from VAT but each country has different rules.” So while most international flights from the UK to the UAE will not incur VAT, the aircraft must contain at least 10 seats and weigh more than 8000 kg in order to qualify for a tax exemption.

However, passengers flying from the UK on an aircraft with a take-off weight of 5.7 tonnes or more must also pay Air Passenger Duty. This ranges from £26-£188 for small and medium-sized private jets to £52-£376 for long-range jets with less than 19 seats, based on the distance flown. Heavier business jets – weighing at least 20 tonnes – with less than 19 passengers on board may be subject to higher rates. Children under the age of 12 are exempt from the tax and so are some lighter private jets, such as the Cessna Citation Mustang or Eclipse 500.

You should check with your operator or charter broker about other country-specific taxes. Italy’s ‘luxury tax’, for example, requires all passengers on a charter flight to pay a tax of €100 when flying distances between 100 km and 1,500 km, and €200 for flights over 1,500 km.

Can I book a private jet flight online?

In the last few years, companies like Charterscanner, JetSmarter, PrivateFly, Stratajet and Victor have started to mirror what companies like Expedia and Skyscanner are already doing in the commercial aviation space. They use sophisticated technology to aggregate quotes from operators, and make it easy for customers to book a private jet flight directly through their websites or smart phone apps.

For more complex journeys that are spread over a period of days and involve different aircraft types – plus other variables such as catering and transfers to and from the airport – a degree of manual correspondence, over the telephone or via e-mail, is still usually required before a transaction can be completed.

TAG Farnborough Airport in the UK.

TAG Farnborough Airport in the UK.

What is an empty leg flight and how much does it cost?

An ‘empty leg’ is a term used to describe an aircraft that is flown with no passengers. According to Avinode, an online marketplace for air charter professionals, around 33 per cent of all private jet flights are flown empty, although operators seem to question this figure.

If you can afford to be more flexible with your schedule, many operators now offer the opportunity to fill their empty legs at a discounted rate. By booking through Victor, an online charter broker, four passengers can charter a Cessna Citation Mustang from Farnborough to Dublin for £1,375. For longer flights, an empty leg between Teterboro and Luton will cost around £32,000 for 12 or 13 passengers on an Embraer Legacy 650, which is considerably cheaper than the going rate.

However, empty leg flights do come with a high degree of risk. “You’re not guaranteed the flight, because you’re piggybacking off a primary flight,” says Margetson-Rushmore. “If the customer cancels or changes their flight time, it could be critical.”

Although Margetson-Rushmore says that 90 per cent of London Executive Aviation’s bookings take off as planned, you should still check that your charter broker will reimburse you for the cost of the flight in the event of cancellation.

Should I use a charter broker?

Charter brokers have traditionally charged a commission rate of 7 per cent. However, as brokers usually receive wholesale rates from operators, there is rarely much difference in price between a charter flight booked through a broker or one that is booked directly with an operator – especially as brokers can negotiate the operator’s price down further on your behalf.

For regular private jet fliers who know the aircraft – and even the crew – that they want, it can make sense to cut out the middleman and book directly with an operator. But if you’re new to private aviation, an experienced charter broker will offer quick advice (for free) and a much wider range of aircraft in terms of speed, price and space.

“Many operators have quite small fleets, so you are not going to get the full market coverage,” says Wheatley. “A charter broker gives you access to all the aircraft available in your area.”

Wheatley adds: “Someone who is used to flying commercially from the UK may assume that it is best to charter a private jet from Heathrow, but a charter broker will be able to recommend an airport that is much closer to home and at a fraction of the price.

The view from a Dassault Falcon 900.

The view from a Dassault Falcon 900.

Who are the biggest operators and charter brokers?

According to Jetnet, a provider of aviation market intelligence, the five largest private jet operators in the world (excluding fractional operators) in terms of fleet size are: Clay Lacy Aviation (US), Travel Management Company (US), Executive Jet Management (US), Landmark Aviation (US) and Deer Jet (China).

Some of the largest charter brokers include companies such as Chapman Freeborn, Hunt and Palmer, Air Charter Service and Air Partner, but there are many charter brokers specialising in certain aircraft types that may be more appropriate to your needs.

How do I choose a charter broker?

There are close to 100 charter brokers operating in the UK alone (and far more in the US), but the industry remains unregulated. According to the National Business Aviation Association (NBAA): “Unlike FAA-certificated charter operators, charter brokers are not regulated by the FAA or Department of Transportation.”

Wheatley believes the key to avoiding a potential minefield is choosing a charter broker with plenty of experience. “You don’t want to be part of someone’s learning curve,” he says.

You can get a good idea of how reputable a charter broker is by asking people in the industry, simply looking at their website or calling them up. Likewise, Wheatley says it is a good idea to ask your charter broker for a sample contract before agreeing to anything.

While charter brokers do not have to be licensed or registered in any way, some brokers opt to be audited by a third party, such as Wyvern Authorized Brokers or the Certified Charter Broker programme, which was launched by ARGUS in 2014.

It may also be beneficial to know if the broker is a member of Avinode, the world’s largest network for air charter professionals. While this won’t tell you much about the broker’s reputation, it will let you know that they are committed enough to pay Avinode a monthly membership fee.

How do I choose a charter operator?

According to the NBAA, there are over 2,100 charter operators in the US. All of these are legally required to hold a valid Part 135 air taxi certificate – and adhere to FAA guidelines – in order to legally operate a charter flight. Likewise, UK carriers must possess an Air Operator’s Certificate to operate commercially. “An operator is approved by a civil aviation authority in the same way that a commercial airline is,” says Margetson-Rushmore.

You should never exchange money – or any other financial compensation – for a private jet flight unless you are absolutely certain that is being operated by a certificated charter operator – this is not not only illegal, but dangerous. “I have even seen professional corporates unknowingly purchase illegal charter,” says David MacDonald, director of sales at Hunt & Palmer. “I saw the blood drain from their face after I told them.”

It is equally important that you check that the operator has been recently audited by an insurance company, and that the company has a strong safety management culture. You can research the company’s audit history by contacting a third-party safety auditor, such as International Standard for Business Aircraft Operations (IS-BAO), Air Charter Safety Foundation (ACSF), Aviation Research Group U.S. (ARG/US) or Wyvern.

“Ask to see their Air Operator’s Certificate and do a bit of digging into the safety of the company,” says Cremer. Check the operator’s website closely, visit the company’s facilities and don’t be afraid to ask questions about who maintains the operator’s fleet, and how often – and where – the crew receives training.

You should also ask about the operator’s cancellation policy, to make sure you are covered in the event that you need to cancel – or change – your flight at short notice.

How far in advance do I need to book a private charter flight?

Unlike commercial aviation, there is no financial incentive to book a private jet flight months in advance, so how early you book depends on how popular the route – and operator – is. Traditionally, US aircraft operators are busiest between November and May, while New York to Florida is a particularly hot route.

The speedy nature of private aviation means that operators and brokers are very capable of scheduling a charter flight at short notice. “It could be three hours, it could be three months,” says Bob Sherry, president and CEO of ExcelAire, an aircraft manager and charter operator in New York. “You need to book at least a month in advance for Christmas or New Year, when there is not much available other than a few empty legs.”

“The notice period has come right down,” says Cremer. “We mostly deal with the ‘pop-up’ stuff – whether it is a business meeting or leisure flight – with a couple of weeks’ notice. Of course, you get some customers who like to book their ski seasons a year in advance.”

Early booking is more common in jurisdictions that impose stricter flight restrictions. The Chinese government, for example, requires extensive information on the details and purpose of the flight, as well as requiring a sponsor responsible for the flight’s passengers to submit a letter to the CAAC. The sponsor must be based in one of the cities that the passenger is visiting and may be contacted by the CAAC.

Asia Jet applies for landing and flight permits on behalf of its passengers flying from or into China, but asks that they give at least two to three working days’ notice in order to receive the necessary permission.

Other jurisdictions vary. You need to give at least seven days’ notice to enter Italian airspace and as much as 15 working days’ notice to land in India, while Indonesia requires seven working days’ notice to obtain landing and overflying permits.

Cessna Citation Mustang

Cessna Citation Mustang

How do I choose an aircraft?

Beyond the basic capabilities of the aircraft – such as size, range and speed – you should take into account the amount of baggage space that the aircraft offers. So while a Cessna Citation Mustang might be ideal for flying two or three passengers from one business meeting to another, it is not big enough to hold bags of shopping or skiing equipment.

Mark Hardman, operations director at Execujet Middle East, says: “There are 65 cubic feet of baggage space on a Learjet 60, which translates into about four or five suitcases.”

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If you are planning on doing some shopping on your trip, you should consider not only how many bags you expect to bring back, but how this will affect the performance of the aircraft (generally, heavier aircraft are not able to fly as far/fast and require more runway length for take-off and landing).

The age of an aircraft is also important. “You don’t want to be on the back of an aircraft that is 25 or 30 years old,” says Hardman. It is important to note that you are not necessarily any less safe flying in an older aircraft, but the interior may feel more tired if has not been recently refurbished. The aircraft is also less likely to include Wi-Fi connectivity or modern entertainment systems inside the cabin.

What kind of insurance do I need?

While insurance is covered by the operator, NBAA advises passengers to get themselves listed as an additional name on the operator’s policy. The association also recommends that you obtain a certificate of insurance confirming the coverage – identifying the aircraft model – prior to the flight.

How can I know which celebrities have flown on (or own) the aircraft?

No company in business aviation will disclose their customers unless they are official ambassadors of the company. This means you could sit in a seat that has been used by a rock star, a Hollywood actress or even the Queen of England without knowing.

Am I allowed to bring my pet on board?

US passengers are allowed to fly with their pets on a private jet, so long as they are at least eight-weeks-old (if a dog or cat) and have been weaned. You also need to prove that your pet has received a rabies vaccination.

In the UK, the airport – including Biggin Hill, Oxford and Farnborough – and the operator must be approved by the Pet Travel Scheme (PETS), which allows dogs, cats and ferrets (yes, ferrets) to enter the country without a quarantine period.

How early do I need to arrive at the airport?

Private aviation terminals are often referred to in the business aviation industry as fixed-base operators or FBOs. Although some FBOs are extremely lavish and packed with different facilities and refreshments, it is rare for passengers to spend much time waiting before their flights.

Once you have accepted a quote from the operator or charter broker (and most likely, completed your payment), the first move is usually to send your passport details to the operator. They will then send you an itinerary, taking into account how traffic and weather conditions will affect your journey. The operator will also arrange your transport to the airport if it has been requested.

Although many FBOs are capable of rushing passengers through in a matter of minutes, you should generally aim to arrive at the FBO 15 minutes before your departure. “The one thing we tell first-time passengers is not to arrive at the airport two hours early, but of course they always do,” says Margetson-Rushmore.

A major perk of business aviation is that there is no such thing as missing your flight. “If you hit traffic, we’re going to wait for you,” says Sherry. However, if delays cause you to incur any additional airport fees, it likely that you will have to pay the difference.

What happens when I arrive at the airport?

The departure procedure for a private jet flight varies according to airport, the size of your aircraft and the operator that you are flying with.

Customers flying with Gama Aviation from TAG Farnborough Airport, for example, must present their prior permission number (e-mailed in advance) and passport before they are allowed beyond the gate, where the concierge will greet them.

Passengers flying on an aircraft over 10 tonnes must pass though security (much the same as at a commercial airport – but you are allowed to keep your shoes on), before the ground escort loads your baggage into a car and drives you to the door of the aircraft.

“You go through the same level of customs and security, but it is only a queue of four or maybe eight people rather than hundreds,” says Margetson-Rushmore.

If you are flying on an aircraft under 10 tonnes (which includes all light jet types) you will be taken straight to the airside gate by the concierge, without any security checks, and driven to the aircraft.

If you arrive at the airport early, you are, of course, welcome to relax at the FBO, make yourself a drink or log-in to the Wi-Fi and check your e-mails in the passenger lounge (although some FBOs charge passengers to use their facilities).

Do I need to check-in my luggage?

No, when you fly on a private jet, your luggage travels on the aircraft with you. Your bags will be carried into the cabin or the hold, depending on their size.

A main course served on board a VistaJet private jet.

A main course served on board a VistaJet private jet flight.

What can I eat/drink on board a private jet?

The standard catering offered by many operators (particularly of smaller jets) often includes a tray of fresh fruit, a cheese platter and some alcohol (usually red and white wine and spirits). This is served by the corporate flight attendant or co-pilot, depending on the size of the aircraft.

London Executive Aviation and Gama Aviation both have contracts with specialist inflight catering companies in the UK (High Flying Foods and Aria) and issue their passengers with a set menu that is included in the cost of the flight.

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On flights operated by Execujet Middle East, passengers are served a three-course meal that is suitable for the time of day and the length of the flight. This usually consists of a main course of lamb, chicken or beef, as well as local delicacies such as dates, Arabian coffee and cold meze.

Operators without catering contracts will usually liaise with the FBO – which may have an existing arrangement with a catering company – or a local hotel or restaurant.

If you have any special requests – or just a bigger appetite – you can pay extra for the operator pick up food or drink on your behalf – whether it is sushi from a high-end restaurant or a burger from McDonalds.

Margetson-Rushmore says London Executive Aviation will happily provide a chilled bottle of Cristal champagne for passengers who are willing to pay for it, but says the most commonly ordered drink is actually a Virgin Mary.

Can I smoke on board a private jet?

You are allowed to smoke on a private jet (and consume alcohol) as long as it has been pre-agreed with the aircraft owner and the crew working on your flight. You will have to confirm this with the operator before take-off.

However, some charter operators such as GlobeAir have a strict no-smoking policy across their fleet. “It got to the point where we felt that smoking on board not only posed a health hazard but also increases the risk of fire, says Bernhard Fragner, CEO.

What can I do during the flight?

Most modern business jets are fitted with a DVD player, a music system and laptop power points. There are also fold-out tables and seats that swivel and track, allowing you to work efficiently, whether independently or with colleagues.

On business newer jets like the Gulfstream G650 and the HondaJet, you can use your smart phone to make calls as you would on the ground and even control the lights, temperature and window shutters inside the cabin.

Whereas Wi-Fi was once an expensive luxury, inflight Wi-Fi connectivity is now becoming more common on private charter flights. “If they ask for Wi-Fi, we’ll switch it on,” says Sherry. “Data used to cost as much as $9 a minute, but it is much lower now.”

In the US, many operators now use Aircell’s Gogo Biz system to provide Wi-Fi connectivity using an air-to-ground antenna. Gogo Biz charges $6.95 per megabyte, but charter operators which have a contract with the provider should be able to benefit from economies of scale, allowing their customers to use Wi-Fi services for cheaper rates.

Air-to-ground connectivity is not yet possible in Europe, so aircraft must use satellite systems, which are generally more expensive. Passengers can expect to pay somewhere between $50 and $100 per hour for what is considered to be a typical amount of data usage, according to Satcom Direct.

What happens when I land?

Arguably the most significant timesaving from flying on a private jet comes at the very end of your flight. Rather than having to brave long lines at immigration, a member of the FBO will come on board the aircraft and ask to see the passports of all passengers.

Once your passport has been checked (this is usually a very quick process), you are free to exit the aircraft, where a car will already be waiting to take you to your final destination.

Should I tip the pilot and crew?

The tipping etiquette when flying on a private jet is much the same as in any part of the service business – it’s not obligatory, but it’s certainly appreciated. Some operators, such as London Executive Aviation, have a policy requiring crew members to hand in any tips for distribution amongst the company’s payroll, but others choose not to get involved.

While Alex Pod, part of the ‘Rich Kids of Instagram,’ brags that you should “always make sure to tip your pilot and co-pilot $10,000,” this is certainly considered excessive. “Tips can range from $20 to a couple of hundred,” says Sherry. “The standard is probably $100 for each member of the crew.”

In other regions, tipping is less common. In the Middle East, Hardman says it is “highly unexpected,” while one operator says it is possible for a pilot in Nigeria to double their salary through tips.

Will I feel jet lagged after flying on a private jet?

Newer private jet models have a much lower cabin pressure than commercial airliners, meaning that passengers should feel less fatigued and/or jet lagged after crossing time zones at high-speed.

The cabin in Bombardier’s Global 6000, for example, is pressurised to an altitude of 4,500 ft when flying at 45,000 ft, which is significantly lower than a commercial aircraft cabin, and has been designed for a better cabin environment and air quality.

The extra legroom and comfort afforded to private jet passengers should also ensure that they feel more refreshed after landing, when compared to flying commercially. “When I fly across the Atlantic, I definitely notice the difference,” says one occasional private jet flier. “You also feel like a king.”

For an even more refreshing flight, the VIP version of the Boeing 787 Dreamliner is currently the only private aircraft that uses an electrical compressor to pump fresh air into the cabin rather than drawing ‘bleed air’ directly from the engine.