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Business Titans and Celebrities are Facing More Choices—and Scrutiny—When Flying Private

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The wealthiest and most famous people in the world have long favored the conveniences of private jet travel, and among younger generations, owning your own jet has become the ultimate status symbol. 

With an ever-growing number of choices, more customization options, and greater public scrutiny due to environmental concerns, selecting a private jet has become one of the biggest—and priciest—decisions a mogul can make. 

While private jet purchases occasionally make the news—pop superstar Beyoncé famously celebrated her husband Jay-Z’s first Father’s Day by gifting him a $40 million Bombardier Challenger 850, complete with a cream leather living room, kitchen, bedroom, and two bathrooms—most acquisitions are shrouded in secrecy.

Megan Wolf, chief operating officer of Flexjet, a Richmond Heights, Ohio-based provider of fractional ownership aircraft, leasing, and jet card services, has seen interest spike in recent years.

“The biggest challenge facing ultra-high-net-worth people right now is the lack of aircraft available for purchase,” Wolf says. “After the initial lockdowns, private jet activity has soared since the pandemic started.” 

The interior of a BBJ 777X from Boeing Business Jets.

Courtesy MBG International Design

Size Matters

When potential buyers are able to track down available inventory, the most in-demand amenity is size, according to Wolf. 

“People who used to scale up from light- to mid-sized and mid- to large cabins now are jumping right into mid-sized cabins and up,” she says.

Alex Fecteau, director of marketing at Boeing Business Jets, has observed the same trend. “There is a growing demand for large jets in the post-pandemic world. Private aviation customers want to travel to their destinations nonstop and bring their family members, business associates, or security detail,” Fecteau says. “These customers are buying airplanes with a large enough range and cabin size to meet their highest travel standards.”

Seattle, Wash.-based Boeing Business Jets offers ultralarge cabin, long-range private jets wrapped in the latest commercial jet platforms. The entry-level BBJ 737-7 covers nearly all global aviation routes, while the newest BBJ 777-9 flagship can connect any two cities on the planet nonstop. 

For the environmentally conscious, there’s the BBJ 787 family of carbon fiber fuselage, all-electric architecture jets. Low cabin altitude, hospital-grade air purification, supplemental humidification systems, and other features help to reduce jet lag and fatigue, providing next-level comfort.

“Our customers want the same luxury and comfort in the skies that their penthouse home offers them on the ground,” Fecteau says. “They expect bespoke interiors with private staterooms to rest and offices to work, full-size showers, high-speed and secure communications and internet, entertainment areas and dining facilities that allow them to bring their own chef onboard, and more.”

Gulfstream Is Still King

One of the industry’s biggest names, Savannah, Ga.-based Gulfstream Aerospace, turned heads earlier this year when it successfully completed the first flight of its ultralong-range G800.

“We are seeing great interest in the G800,”
Mark Burns,
president of Gulfstream, said in a statement heralding the jet’s first flight this past June. “We have announced eight new aircraft in the past decade, strategically timed to capture market demand.”

Gulfstream has long been associated with the business and entertainment elite; owners include
Elon Musk,
Steven Spielberg, Dwayne Johnson, Tyler Perry, Tom Cruise, and Oprah Winfrey, who reportedly shelled out $75 million for a G650. There are more than 3,000 Gulfstream aircraft currently in service around the world, with 119 delivered new to customers in 2021.

The G800 can fly up to 8,000 nautical miles with class-leading fuel-efficiency thanks to the combination of the Gulfstream-designed, advanced high-speed wing and all-new, high-thrust Rolls-Royce Pearl 700 engines. Priced at $71.5 million and up, deliveries of the G800 are scheduled to begin in 2023.

The plane features the latest in cabin technology and comfort, including handcrafted, ergonomic seats; a high- definition circadian lighting system; 100% fresh, never recirculated air; the lowest cabin pressure in the industry; a plasma-ionization air-purification system; and 16 expansive windows. Designed to seat up to 19 passengers, the G800 offers up to four living areas, or three living areas with a crew compartment.

Further enhancing safety and pilot situational awareness, the G800 is equipped with dual head-up displays (transparent displays that give a pilot a seamless view of critical flight information, projected directly in the pilot’s line of sight) and Gulfstream’s next-generation Symmetry flight deck, which features integrated touchscreen controllers.

The bedroom of a BBJ 777X.

Courtesy MBG International Design

Growing Scrutiny

A-listers with their own aircraft are needing to be ever more mindful of the optics surrounding their travels. Thanks to publicly available resources such as flight data analysis, CEOs and celebs have been coming under fire for their use of private jets. 

Amazon founder
Jeff Bezos
drew unwanted attention late last year when he traveled on his private jet to Glasgow, Scotland, for the United Nations’ COP26 summit aimed at cutting global greenhouse gas emissions. While Bezos was far from the only attendee to have traveled there via private jet, he drew the bulk of the criticism in light of his past claims of climate change posing the biggest threat to the planet, not to mention the irony that he traveled to Glasgow to discuss the importance of fighting climate change with various leaders. 

Observers have become increasingly critical of notable people who use their private jets to travel short distances, seemingly unconcerned with the environmental impact and the message they could be sending to their legions of followers. When used for short distances, even the newest, most efficient aircraft leave a much larger carbon footprint than any other alternatives. 

Various social media accounts track celebrity jet movements using public information to estimate how much CO2 emissions are produced. Musk’s notoriously short flights, including a nine-minute, 35-mile jaunt from San Jose, Calif., to San Francisco, have been tracked and exposed by @ElonJet, a Twitter account run by Jack Sweeney, a 20-year-old IT major at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. Sweeney sources public information from the internet to track the movements of private planes flying the likes of Tom Cruise and assorted Kardashians. In July, his @CelebJets account called out Kylie Jenner for a 17-minute flight, which led to critics calling her a “climate criminal.”

A 2021 report published by Transport & Environment, a European clean transport campaign group, found that a single private jet can emit two metric tons of CO2 in just an hour, while noting that the average person in the European Union produces about 8.2 tons of emissions over the course of an entire year.

Compared with fuel-efficient commercial planes and climate-friendly cars, the emissions per passenger mile are substantially higher for private jets, which typically carry few passengers and travel shorter distances. Various factors need to be considered, as the fuel economy of a private jet with a higher number of passengers could be comparable to a single person driving  a gas-guzzling SUV or truck.

“We all should be good stewards of natural resources, including our environment,” Stephen Myers, executive vice president of Naples, Fla.-based private charter company Elite Jets. “But the private jet of today is much more fuel efficient and emits less pollution than the jets of a generation ago.” 

This article appears in the December 2022 issue of Penta magazine.


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