Will every “mission” or private jet flight require the biggest and the newest aircraft?
Private jet travel is one of the most beneficial forms of travel for high level business people, and wealthy travelers in the world today. No one can argue against the benefits of ease of travel, number of locations served, and the ability to get things done in the air. The industry continues to grow, with new jets on the market each year, and advancements to models already in place. Even the most jaded private jet traveler among us has certainly stepped onto a brand new, large jet, and been a little awed by that particular model. If not, maybe take a quick glance into the cockpit, and it might change your opinion. The technology that goes into every part of today’s private jet is truly space age (see last year’s article about chartering Lear Jets, especially the 85). But I would like to take a few moments to talk about the other side of the jet fleet, utilitarian aircraft. The fleet of private jets available for us to use is very similar in some regards to cars available on the road.
Not every “mission” or flight will require the biggest, best and newest aircraft. I am sure every jet user has had times when budget was not a concern, and on this trip it was to be the biggest and best. You shopped around for the best value on a jet not less than 2 years old, or maybe you took a large jet when a mid would have done the job, just because you could on this trip. But there are other trips when prudence has over ruled that thought. I would like to take a few minutes to look at some older jets that are still flying, and are great options for certain situations. Let’s say you were to take a trip up into the mountains for the weekend, and you know that you’re going to be going down some dirt roads, it’s going to be a little muddy, and quite frankly you will be “roughing it”. Would you choose a 2012 Jaguar for this trip? Or even a shiny black Escalade with lots of hours of power, size and gripping tires? Those would be poor choices for this situation. Of course a Toyota Land Cruiser or Range Rover would be good choices, but even then, if gravel might be flying, you’re not going to take the 2013 model, you’re going to take something a little older. Maybe you want to really get down and dirty and equip yourself with a 1978 Ford Bronco with a wench on the front and a roll bar! The point here is that there are times when more thought needs to be put into the jet to be used, and sometimes you come up with the option you wouldn’t normally consider. Let’s look at a few older jets that are still in the fleet and can certainly serve your purpose.
The Lear 35 is the direct descendant of the first true business jet, the Lear 23. It was also at one time one of the most prevalent and popular light jets in the world, and certainly with good reason. The Lear 35 has an incredible amount of 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 NY to Aspen, with no fuel stop. The Lear 35 is also a fast aircraft, with a normal cruise speed of .79 Mach, which is just under the normal cruise speed of many large jets like the Gulfstream GIV (please note, the large jets can go a bit faster than the Lear 35, but most pilots use a standard cruise speed of .80, so in a street race, the Lear 35 will lose handily). Because of the age of these aircraft, having been built in the late 70s and early 80s, the pricing is certainly the lowest in the private jet market, often as low as $1800 an hour, but averaging more like $2000. Are there drawbacks to this aircraft? Certainly, for one, it’s not attractive! The fuel tanks at the end of the wing, while necessary for the aircraft’s amazing range, are throwbacks to a bygone era. I personally am not a fan of the body style itself, and the narrow tube like fuselage. This light jet also has no enclosed lavatory. The lavatory itself is at the front of the aircraft, directly behind the pilots. There is a curtain that a passenger can pull shut for some privacy, but it’s not like shutting the door and this lavatory is only to be used in case of emergency! This can be a tremendous draw back when you are using this aircraft for its main purpose, a 3.75 hour flight! And what is there to do on a jet for 3 hours, but have a bottle of water and then vodka and orange juice, and a soda, and then you’re up a creek. But many of these aircraft have newly updated interiors, and the Lear seats, I am told, are some of the most comfortable in the class. So if your 2 people, flying from the east coast to the mountains or you have a group of lower level execs to get to a far off meeting quickly, this is the right aircraft for the task. They are safe, reliable, and have some amazing handling ability.
The Falcon line of aircraft is one of my favorite aircraft to date. I will first plug the entire line of aircraft before getting into the two specific aircraft here. Dessault built the Falcon line with the idea of putting fighter jet performance 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 lead the charge on innovation. All of the falcon fleet can land on runways far shorter than any other private jet aircraft. Because of their reverse thrusters, they can land on runways as short as 4000’. This can be invaluable when traveling to a location like 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. However, for the sake of this article I want to focus on the Falcon 10 and 20, both aircraft out of production, but still in use, and valuable for certain jobs. Again, a not terribly attractive exterior aircraft, one that makes good use of interior space, the Falcon 10 is a very small aircraft. It does have an enclosed lavatory, but so small, again you wouldn’t want to use it! With a speed and range to match 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. 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.
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 does have its benefits, but the Challenger is a great aircraft for many reasons. Its big drawback is range, sometimes requiring 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 in Canada or Ireland during a 9 hour flight!) this is a wonderful and powerful aircraft. While its Gulfstream counter parts 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 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 plus for 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 elderly or small children, this could be a key selling point. The lowered center aisle can cause difficulties for these groups of people (the smaller ones move to fast, and the larger ones move slowly) and can cause passengers to trip. The flat bed allows movement around the cabin in a much easier manner. I also like that the galley of this aircraft is always in the front. On a Gulfstream, the galley is often located in the rear, which can often be inconvenient with the flight attendant 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 aircraft worth mentioning. The Citation II, while old and slow, has amazing luggage capacity. The Westwind II, also an old slow jet has an even more amazing range than the Lear 35. Hawker 800 has a great range for a midsize jet and I have seen them 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. Consider that many of the commercial aircraft being flown around the world right now are as old as or older than the Lear 35. If properly maintained these aircraft are great jets, and can serve any number of specific niches. Lear 35 engines have become very inexpensive, and instead of being repaired, are often replaced, leaving them with newer engines than many premium jets! And for the true private aviation enthusiast, consider that flying on these aircraft is taking part in a piece of our cultural history. Take the time to discuss these options with your broker, and don’t make the assumption that they have considered every option. A good broker will, but it never hurts to back up their knowledge with your own due diligence. Also use your broker to gather info on the aircraft you are flying on. An older aircraft can be dangerous, just like a new aircraft, if it is not properly maintained. Fly safe, fly happy, and fly often!
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