The most popular business jets in 2019


If you ask anybody the question “What’s your favourite business jet?” you might get a different answer from each person. For some, the allure of a large-cabin, long-range business jet is too hard to miss, but others might choose a smaller, more-practical aircraft. Others might look back over the history of business aviation and chose an aircraft that played a pivotal role in the development of the industry, whilst others might just choose the latest and greatest.

Whilst we all dream of escaping the last row drudgery of long-haul flights and dream instead of being whisked from destination to destination in the utmost of style, from a practicality perspective, it is often the smaller aircraft that are used to perform flights.

Thanks to the latest data from Argus, which tracks US departures by aircraft type, we can now see what the most popular aircraft types were in the US last year, by the number of flights performed.

Very Light Jet – Embraer Phenom 100

In the Very Light Jet (VLJ) sector, it was the Embraer Phenom 100 which flew the most in 2019, racking up 32,582 individual flights. The Phenom 100, and its successor the Phenom 100EV are ideally suited to short-range flights, benefitting from being one of the only aircraft in its class to have a separated toilet. Using a toilet on a VLJ is never a comfortable experience, with other aircraft in the same class simply offering a curtain to contain your modesty, and whilst the Phenom 100 does not have a full bathroom, it does at least offer a hard wall between the toilet and the rest of the cabin.

But it is not just the toilet that makes the Phenom 100 family popular, the cabin is also taller and wider than its competition. In a small aircraft, a couple of inches make a world of difference, and Embraer’s design team have done a great job of creating a feeling of space inside the cabin.

The only drawback to the Phenom 100 is its range, but it makes up for this with its short-field capabilities, meaning that it can land and take off from shorter runways than its competitors.

Light Jet – Embraer Phenom 300

It is probably not a surprise to see that the Embraer Phenom 300 was the most popular light jet in 2019, with a total of 117,339 flights – after all, it has been the most-delivered light jet for the past eight years in a row.

A good proportion of those aircraft have been delivered to fractional operators. NetJets utilises the Phenom 300 both in its US fleet, which operates 82 of Phenom 300s, and in its European fleet, which operates 15 of the type. Flexjet also operates a large fleet of the type, having taken delivery of 38 aircraft so far.

The Phenom 300 has the widest and tallest cabin in its class, aside from the Pilatus PC-24. Although the aircraft can carry up to a maximum of ten passengers, normal configurations have seating for eight.

Although it was already the most-delivered aircraft in its class, early in 2020 Embraer introduced an updated version of the Phenom 300E, making the aircraft faster and further flying, as well as refreshing the cabin.

Mid-size jet – Cessna Citation Excel / XL family

Cessna first announced the Citation Excel in April 1998 and has subsequently updated and renamed the aircraft three times, leading to the Citation XLS+ that can be bought new today. So far, just over 970 of the family has been delivered.

Until the recent introduction of newer models, the XL family had one of the widest and tallest cabins in its sector. It is much beloved by charter operators and companies, with the latter aircraft forming the backbone of many a charter company.

The family also found favour with fractional operators, with NetJets operating a large fleet of the type. The Warren Buffett company currently operates 59 Excel family aircraft in the US, with a further 21 in operation with its NetJets Europe operating division.

Argus says that the Excel family of aircraft undertook 161,323 flights in 2019.

Super mid-size – Challenger 300 family

The super mid-size sector has been one of the hottest categories in recent years, with many new and upgraded types announced in the past few years.

The type that proved the most popular last year, is also one that has been upgraded in recent years — the Challenger 350 introduced in 2013. The original Challenger 300 was first announced the at the Paris Air Show in 1999 as an all new design, not a development from the larger Challenger 600 family that many people presumed.

Inside the cabin the Challenger 300 family can seat up to 10 passengers in what is still one of the widest cabins in its class, as well as one of the tallest, which means that passengers are able to stand up fully inside the aircraft.

The Challenger 300 family also found favour with many fractional operators, with Flexjet and NetJets operating large fleets of the type. The family of aircraft has also found a home with traditional charter operators, including VistaJet and XOJET.

Large Jet – Challenger 600 family

Heading the list as the most popular large jet is the Challenger 600 family, which includes the Challenger 600, 601, 604, 605 and 650. Combined, the family has seen just over 1,100 deliveries between them.

The original Challenger 600 can trace its roots back as far as 1974, when Bill Lear first came up with the idea for an aircraft that he called the LearStar 600. Lear had already made his name through smaller business jets but felt that he didn’t have the capabilities to develop a larger aircraft. One of the companies he approached was Canadian manufacturer Canadair which, as Bombardier, would later go on to acquire the Learjet brand.

Canadair, having acquired the LearStar 600 design, the manufacturer made several changes before freezing the design, including changing the original tail design of the LearStar 600 into a T tail design. The original Challenger 600 was launched in 1976, with a handful of orders and options already placed.

The latest development, the Challenger 650 was introduced in 2015, with a large order from US fractional operator NetJets. To date, NetJets operates 23 of the type, although its original order was for up to 75 Challenger 650s.

Super Long-Range Jet – Gulfstream GV / G550 family

In the largest category, aside from bizliners, it is no surprise to see the Gulfstream GV / G550 family topping the list as the aircraft that flew the most in 2019.

The original Gulfstream V was a development from the Gulfstream IV, which sold just over 500 aircraft. With the Gulfstream V, the Savannah-based airframer took the basic frame of the GIV, stretched it by seven feet, changed the engines and increased the horizontal tail area by 30%. This leads to the most obvious external differences between the GIV and GV (aside from the obvious size difference) as the tail of the GV does not sweep up in one go like the GIV’s. Instead it sweeps up, then close to the top changes its angle to sweep up more.

Unlike the original GV family, it was not far into production that Gulfstream elected to replace the aircraft, which what is now known as the Gulfstream G550.

Overall, 196 GVs were built. However, the highest production serial number used is 699. Production began at 501, however the customer originally allocated MSN 666 asked for the aircraft to receive a different serial number, based on superstitions regarding the number 666.

Gulfstream has so far delivered just over 600 G550s. It has also delivered a handful of the original G500, which was effectively a lower-range version of the G550.