Should You Always Pick the Biggest and Newest Aircraft for Your Private Flight?

by Richard Zaher / Oct 15, 2012

The private jet charter industry is growing fast, with new jets appearing on the market each year, and advancements being made to models already in place. The technology that goes into every part of today’s private jet is truly cutting-edge (described, for example, in an article about chartering Learjets, especially the 85). But let’s focus on the other side of the jet fleet, utilitarian aircraft. The fleet of private jets available is comparable in some regards to cars available on the road.

Not every private flight will require the biggest, best and newest aircraft. Some older jets that are still flying may be great for certain situations. 

Imagine you’re planning a trip up into the mountains where you’ll be going down some dirt roads, in muddy terrain, and, frankly, you will be “roughing it”. Would you choose the latest Jaguar for this trip, or a shiny black Escalade – even with lots of hours of power, size and gripping tires? Probably not, and even if taking a Toyota Land Cruiser or Range Rover you’d consider something a little older as gravel might be flying. If you wanted to really get down and dirty you could even equip yourself with a 1978 Ford Bronco with a winch and roll bar on the front! The point here is that sometimes the jet to be used should be well thought of, and for specific purposes you may come up with an option you wouldn’t normally consider.

Good Old Models May Serve Perfect for Your Mission 

Out of the older jets that are still in the fleet, quite a few can certainly serve your purpose.

The Lear 35 is the direct descendant of the first true business jet, the Lear 23. At some point it was one of the most prevalent and popular light jets in the world, and that’s for good reason. The Lear 35 has an incredible range and is still one of the fastest light jets. 

With external fuel tanks and low burn engines, the aircraft can fly just over 2000nm with 4 passengers. That translates to a trip from NY to Aspen with no fuel stop. The Lear 35 can reach a normal cruise speed of .79 Mach, which is close to the cruise speed of many large jets like the Gulfstream GIV. Because of the fact that these aircraft were built in the late 70s and early 80s, their age means better pricing. It can cost as little as $1800 an hour, averaging around $2000. 

When it comes to the design of the Lear 35, some people find it less attractive. The fuel tanks are at the end of the wing, and while necessary for its amazing range, they look like throwbacks to a bygone era. The lavatory on this jet is at the front of the aircraft, directly behind the pilots. It’s separated from the cabin with a curtain but isn’t an enclosed lavatory so it should only be used in case of emergency. It might be discouraging but many of these jets have newly updated interiors, and the Lear seats are among the most comfortable in the class. 

So if you are 2 people who want to fly from the east coast to the mountains or a group of business people who need to get to a far-off meeting quickly, this is the right jet for the task. The Lear 35 are safe, reliable, and have some amazing handling ability.

The Falcon line is also among the favorite ones. The Falcon aircraft were built in such a way that fighter jet performance could be put into a private jet from a small light to large intercontinental. The fleet contains the Falcon 10 (light), the 20 (mid), the 50 (super mid), the 2000 (super mid/large), the Falcon 900 (large), and the 7X (ultra large). 

From the smallest to largest, these aircraft have always led the charge on innovation. Thanks to their reverse thrusters, all of the Falcon fleet can land on runways far shorter than any other private jet aircraft – as short as 4000’. This can be invaluable when traveling to certain locations, such as e.g. East Hampton, NY. The Falcon 900 is the only large jet that can land at this airport, making it the only option for groups of 9 or more people. 

The Falcon 10 and 20 are now out of production, but still in use, and valuable for certain jobs. Perhaps the exterior doesn’t now seem very attractive but it makes a good use of the interior space. Being a very small aircraft, the Falcon 10 does have a very small but enclosed lavatory. With a speed and range similar to the Lear 35, this little gem also has the runway ability to match. It can actually land runways as short as 3000’. 

The Falcon 20 has many of the same capabilities including longer range and a cabin that is actually as big as many super mid jets, but a price tag of a mid one. This aircraft is great for high altitude performance and short runways, getting you and your family (the falcon 20 can often seat 9 to 10 people) into places no other jet can go.

International Charter Flights

When large private jets began to fly internationally, across the Atlantic to Europe, the Challenger 601 quickly rose to the top. Many people tout the prestige of the Gulfstream line, and it certainly does have its benefits, but the Challenger is a great aircraft for many reasons. Its drawback may be the range as it sometimes requires a fuel stop on flights to and from Europe. 

Many of the early Challengers did not have a fuel tank in the tail and were limited to a 6.5 hour range, not enough for a flight from NYC to London. However, when the flight is within the aircraft’s range, or when a 45 min ground stop along the way is not a big issue (some people like to stretch their legs during a 9-hour flight), this is a wonderful and powerful aircraft. 

While its Gulfstream counterparts often have seating for 13+, the Challenger is designed for 9 to 12 passengers. The cabin is shorter than the Gulfstream, but it is wider. This means that the cabin has more of a living room feel than the steel tube of the Gulfstream. If you have 8 passengers traveling a long distance, this can make a big difference. However, if you’re looking for more than 10 it might not be the right aircraft. 

Another advantage of this aircraft is the flat bed floor. Due to its age and pricing, the aircraft often competes for trips with super midsize jets like the Falcon 50 or Gulfstream G200, which have dropped center aisles. If you’re traveling with the elderly or small children, this could be a key point. The lowered center aisle can cause difficulties for these groups of people (the smaller ones move too fast, and the larger ones move slowly and they may trip). The flat bed allows movement around the cabin in a much easier manner. 

The galley of this aircraft is always in the front. On a Gulfstream, the galley is often located in the rear, which may sometimes be inconvenient with the flight crew moving from the jump seat to the galley, or passengers moving from the cabin to the lavatory through a busy galley.

There are several other older aircraft worth mentioning. The Citation II, indeed older and slower, has an amazing luggage capacity. The Westwind II, not being the newest jet either, has an even more amazing range than the Lear 35. Hawker 800, too, has a great range for a midsize jet and it can go from Seattle to Florida nonstop in the right conditions. 

The age of these aircraft, while something to be considered, is not a limiting factor. Many of the commercial aircraft that fly around the world right now are as old as – or older than – the Lear 35. If properly maintained these aircraft are great jets which can serve a number of missions in specific niches. 

Many engines are often replaced instead of being repaired, which means these planes actually have newer engines than many premium jets now. Additionally, for private aviation enthusiasts, flying on board these older aircraft is experiencing the cultural history of aviation. 

When planning your private jet charter, discuss the options with your broker. Gather the information on the aircraft you can fly on and remember that older jets can be a good choice too. Just make sure it’s properly maintained and you’re ready to set off! 
Our experienced private aviation specialists will discuss your private aviation needs. Review our selection of aircraft types or call us at +1-877-727-2538 to get private jet quotes online for an upcoming trip.

About Richard Zaher

Richard Zaher Richard Zaher is the founder and CEO of Paramount Business Jets. He is a pilot and the President of Air Charter Association of North America (ACANA). Richard is a graduate of Embry Riddle Aeronautical University (ERAU) with a Bachelor of Science in Aerospace Studies. A seasoned international jet charter expert, entrepreneur, humanitarian, and the recipient of the Embry Riddle Eagle Excellence Award at the 2012 National Business Aviation Association (NBAA) convention. He is also an active member of the Aircraft Owners and Pilots Association (AOPA) as well as several safety and air charter organizations.

One Response

Jayson David says:

Thanks Chris.
Great article and well composed.
Let's not forget the first workhorse of the NAT.
Lockheed's JetStar. No doubt, the 731 is still a great aircraft: range, comfort for 6 or so and a dream to handle.

Oct 16, 2012 @ 2:18 pm