Finding the right business airplane

Choosing an aircraft and the ownership model and operating structure can be daunting. A successful outcome depends on a measured approach to matching needs and alternatives.

The application of aviation to corporate needs involves determining needs, identifying selection criteria and using metrics to evaluate operations, adjusting the process as necessary.

Preferences may relate to cabin size, door size, flight attendant services and baggage/cargo capacity to hold bulky items.

Aircraft amenities may include features such as inflight telephones/ connectivity, conference table for inflight meetings, sleeping capabilities and lavatory facilities.

Metrics for the traveler profile may include the extent to which the aircraft "met expectations," "bridged gaps," "overcame challenges," "provided comfort," "achieved objectives" and "advanced on goals."

A mission profile is an understanding of prospective annual use (distances to be flown, payload composition, frequency of common trips, whether nonstop travel is required or desired, trip patterns, etc).

BTS reports that most business trips in the US are taken to destinations within 250 miles of home and are by car. Trips greater than 1000 miles account for only 7% of all business trips.

The study concludes that the airplane becomes the dominant mode of business travel at distances greater than 500 miles with air travel capturing nearly 85% of business trips between 750 and 1500 miles.

Suitable metrics reflect whether air travel could reasonably be expected to fulfill mission requirements 85% of the time. Metrics for the mission profile may include "no service interruptions," "schedule maintained," "time to destination," "must do nonstop" and "payload objectives met."

Aircraft selection

While business aircraft are versatile strategic assets offering many benefits, they come with high value, high cost and high risk. Selection requires careful matching of aircraft and travel profile to avoid a company burdened with too much aircraft or, perhaps worse, selecting one that only results in unsatisfied expectations.

Nonpilots may believe—incorrectly—that when specifications like maximum range, maximum payload and maximum speed are quoted, these are available concurrently. All aircraft require some compromise in performance.

Some aircraft choices will be limited by payload, some will have range issues. Others will not have stand-up cabins or fully enclosed lavatories. Moreover, the aircraft should be evaluated using an executive/working payload—not the maximum seating payload.

Rather than selecting an aircraft that will perform the most demanding mission nonstop under any circumstance, it is likely more prudent to opt for a corporate aircraft that meets 85% of requirements nonstop.

The remainder may be accommodated either 1-stop or by electing to charter or lease. This approach may save significant acquisition and operating expenses.

Demarcated business jet segments are in many respects arbitrary, inevitably separating competing aircraft. This accepted, the performance and specifications of more than 100 business jets were used to segment current aircraft by MTOW, as indicated in above table. 

Once several candidate aircraft are identified, the aircraft and needs-based criteria listed in the table on this page may be useful in ranking the aircraft for final selection.

The aircraft selection process concludes with analysis and choice of operating and ownership structures. Small businesses and even individual travelers logging few flying hours per year can find models to suit their travel budgets.

As this chart illustrates, aircraft per-hour costs decrease dramatically as annual utilization increases. At low activity levels, ad hoc charter may be the best option. As utilization (demand) increases further, fractional (shared) ownership becomes more attractive. At even higher levels, whole ownership may be warranted.


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