*Originally published in Forbes by Doug Gollan.
With the purchase of a jet card program comes certain guarantees and expected standards for flyers and the planes they fly in. Doug Gollan recently wrote an article on how private jets are sourced for jet card programs.
Safety first. It’s the mantra of all of the aviation world globally. Like flying commercially, flying privately is safer than taking a bath. In 2015, nearly 5,000 deaths from drowning in one’s bathtub were recorded in the U.S. For general aviation, there were 384 fatalities. Still, when spending hundreds of thousands of dollars for a private jet card or prepaid charter program, you probably want to know where the planes you and your family will be flying are coming from.
One advantage of jet card programs is the expectation of consistent standards in terms of sourcing the planes you will fly on. In some cases, your jet card provider operates the fleet you will be flying on, although during peak periods providers (including fractional operators) will charter planes from the open market to meet demand. There are about 7,000 planes in the U.S. that are available for charter under Part 135, either via brokers, jet card providers or directly from the operators, although often they are being used by their owners.
Out of this fleet, executives estimate that there are a couple thousand planes that fit the needs of the charter and jet card market, both in terms of what customers will accept for age (a 40-year-old plane may be safe, but many consumers don’t want to fly on one), cabin condition, interior configuration, complete maintenance records for inspection, and availability. While using a company that owns or operates its fleet may seem like an advantage to one person, it's not a one size fits all market. Several brokers who sell jet cards I spoke with have significant in-house safety departments to oversee the planes they charter to fulfill your jet card flights.
This is Part 1 of 2 parts on sourcing planes and also pilots. In Part 2, I will share what questions experts say you should ask providers about how they source airplanes, pilots and other safety related issues to consider.
I found that for sellers of private jet cards and prepaid private jet programs, fleet composition broke down three ways: Some companies fulfill flights via fleets they either directly own or manage and operate. Others, like charter brokers, go out into the market to source planes, while some feature a hybrid model, owning or managing jets, but also sourcing them like a broker. Some programs have age limits on the jets they will offer you, and most use two industry rating services, ARGUS and Wyvern, which rate operators and brokers. Some have even further in-house standards and reviews.
Below is an overview of responses when I queried companies about their sourcing standards. In some cases, it is based on information from their websites and other published data. I also refer to a survey by Business Jet Traveler of over 1,000 readers about various providers, however, it doesn't cover all companies:
Air Partner says it has access to over 5,000 carriers globally through a preferred network of providers. As a Wyvern-certified broker, The Air Partner Group has an internal Quality Management System focused on safety. This system, in addition to national safety expectations from the European and American Civil Aviation Authorities, systematically promotes (when available) companies that suit at least one of the following: Wyvern Wingman or Registered expectations, ARGUS Platinum or Gold Plus rating, IS-BAO certification, IOSA certification.
Airstream Jets employs a dual-layer approach to safety, according to the company ASJ only utilizes ARGUS Platinum/Gold rated aircraft and crews. Pilots and aircraft must also undergo additional in-house screening and clearance by ASJ management.
Clay Lacy Aviation
The fleet of Clay Lacy is made up of owned jets and jets it manages for owners.
Clay Lacy is Wyvern PASS (Pilot and Aircraft Safety Survey) and it only sources planes ranked at least ARGUS Gold. Clients can specify preferences related to the age of the jets they want to use. The fleet is mainly based in the Western U.S., particularly on the West Coast, and its Executive Traveler Program is targeted for customers in the region.
Delta Private Jets
Delta Private Jets has more than 70 aircraft, a combination of managed and floating fleet. All planes are ARGUS Gold or better, and DPJ last year said it was co-funding with the jet owners enhancements to the cabins of its planes, an unusual move for a management company. In the Business Jet Traveler survey of jet card programs last year, 70% of readers marked the operator Excellent/Very Good for Age of Aircraft, while 80% of readers gave it Excellent/Very Good marks for Cleanliness.
Flexjet has operates its own fleet. It offers fractional ownership and leases as well as jet cards, which are available on its Challenger 300 and Phenom 300 planes. In the Business Jet Traveler survey, 77% of readers gave Flexjet Excellent/Very Good marks for Aircraft Age, with 88% scoring it in those two categories for Cleanliness.
Jet Linx has 90 aircraft under management, and in addition to third party ratings, it has its own in-house compliance team that audits planes to ensure Jet Linx standards are being met. The company has an interesting model selling management and jet cards from 14 base airports and growing. Its jet card sales focus is targeted at customers in those markets. At each of these bases, it operates its own terminal with dedicated staff. Its current locations include Atlanta, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Ft. Worth, Houston, Indianapolis, Nashville, Omaha, San Antonio, Scottsdale, Tulsa and Washington D.C.
Operators must have over $50 million insurance, must be ARGUS Platinum or Gold, with perfect safety and maintenance records.
JetSuite’s owned fleet, like the company, is relatively new. Its Phenom 100 and Citation CJ3 were all delivered new between 2009 and 2013. The operator received Excellent/Very Good ratings from 87% of Business Jet Traveler readers for both Aircraft Age and Cleanliness. Using planes that seat four seven passengers, JetSuite’s strength is with customers that want new planes, an owner-operated fleet and are focused on flights around two hours or less.
Magellan Jets doesn’t own or operate any planes but goes out into the market to source aircraft like a broker. It uses ARGUS Platinum and Wyvern Wingman operators. It has a 42-point safety checklist for every flight. You can customize a program around 10 different jet types and even specify a jet card program that guarantees WiFi.
NetJets is the largest fleet operator with some 700 planes. NetJets offers fractional share and lease options. For its Marquis Jet Card program, there are 10 different plane types across the Light, Midsize and Large cabin categories. The company has an impressive operations center in Columbus, Ohio (I’ve personally toured it), and with Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway as its owner, and clients like Bill Gates, Rodger Federer and Tiger Woods, is one of the highest profile companies in the private aviation market.
Nicholas Air offers fractional shares and leases as well three different jet card products. It buys its planes (Pilatus PC-12, Phenom 100 and 300, and Citation Latitude) directly from the manufacturer, operates them and all aircraft are five years old or less.
Magellan Jets is the leader in domestic and international private jet travel offering private and corporate travel memberships and charter flights. With a global network of thousands of pre-qualified aircraft, Magellan Jets is committed to the highest safety standards, personalized experiences and top level customer service.