Since he was a boy, pilot Nick Tarascio has lived with his head in the clouds, fascinated by the freedom and excitement of flight. Over time, having a plane became his idée fixe.
The world’s most
expensive private plane sold to Saudi Arabian billionaire investor Prince
Al-Waleed bin Talal Al Saud for over $500 million. It included a horse stable
and a prayer room that rotates to face Mecca.
Now the proud owner of “the Corvette of private aircraft”, Tarascio, 33, often takes to the skies for the adrenaline rush of racing without lane markers or traffic. On a whim he’ll fill his plane with friends and fly to Miami from his home in New York, just because he can.
The private aircraft market’s shift in favour of the buyer over the past few years has made that sort of life more attainable for pilots everywhere. The internet has opened up a platform for price comparisons and bargaining while the recent global financial crisis curtailed prices overall. What’s more, shared ownership has become increasingly popular — and easier to achieve.
“It has been an interesting journey to see the landscape shifting. It used to be a speciality niche if you had a plane,” Tarascio added.
The attractions of owning your own personal plane are myriad. There’s the luxury of convenience — never again will you step through a full-body scanner barefoot. Private planes can also access remote areas commercial planes can’t. According to the National Plan of Integrated Airport Systems, there are 5,170 airports in the United States open to the general public, but only 503 of them serviced by commercial airlines. There are a further 3000 airports scattered across Europe, but only 10% served by scheduled flights. The rest are used by private aircraft.
Still, owning your own plane isn’t as simple or low-cost as, say, owning a car. A good used jet can cost the equivalent of 1,750 round-trip business class flights coast-to-coast in Australia, for instance. Even a modest used propeller plane can cost the equivalent of an average home. Maintenance requires constant vigilance and a steady flow of funds. And, of course, you’ll need to pay for hangar space and fuel.
If you are tired of standing in security lines and being jostled in tiny commercial airliner seats, however, you can own a piece of the sky.
How much it costs
This is a particularly good time to be shopping, said Bill Papariella, president of Jet Edge International, a boutique, full-service aviation company in California and Hong Kong. That is because prices are falling. The recession five years ago created a surplus of planes that are up for grabs at a fraction of previous prices.
On the upper end, a used, six-seat Cessna Citation CJ3 could go for $2.5 million, instead of its $8 million new price tag. Other models, with a few less features or a few more years of use, can be found for under $2 million. An older, used eight-passenger jet, like a Learjet 35, online for around $600,000. (Yet for those who want the top of the line, a new Gulf Stream 450 can go for as much as $39 million.)
There are far more affordable options in the propeller plane market. A seven-to-10 year old Piper Saratoga with six seats can be had for between $250,000 and $450,000. A well-kept Cessna propeller plane might be 30-to-40 years old and only be good for short flights, but it will also only cost you $20,000 to $40,000.
Want more than a prop plane but can’t afford an entire jet? With offices in Europe, the United States and China, NetJets sells customers a fraction of a specific serial-numbered aircraft from their fleet, although they have the option to exchange for another jet type best suited for their flight. The company’s most basic agreement allots 50 hours of flying time on a two-year contract. Through this program, NetJets handles all aspects of management, maintenance, staffing and scheduling.
Similarly, Flexjet in Texas, promotes not only fractional ownership but also a jet card debit system where customers can add pay-as-you-go flight hours to their card. Flight Options based in Cleveland, Ohio offers a similar service.
Once the plane has been purchased, the three largest costs are fuel, maintenance and crew, in that order, said Papariella. For example, a small Cessna Citation CJ4 flown 200 hours per year would rack up about $1 million in operation costs. And according to What2Fly.com, those 200 hours might cost $30,000. A smaller Piper Cherokee model would cost half that to operate annually. By comparison, in the US, according to the American Automobile Association, the cost of owning an average-size sedan is over $9,000 per year.
Parking fees at major airports can also set you back around $200 a night in metropolitan areas while a small airport in rural Virginia might only charge $30 a night, Tarascio said. Storing a medium-sized jet in a hangar in high-demand areas could cost between $2,000 to $6,000 per month. Expect to pay about$200 to $700 per month to hangar a small Piper.
There are unexpected costs to consider, too. For international flights, Tarascio keeps cash in the cockpit in case he encounters airport staff who demand pay offs, which he said can sometimes happen in island nations and developing countries.
Share your plane to save?
For plane owners willing to share their piece of the sky, chartering, or renting out their aircraft, brings big savings. Companies like Jet Edge International will recruit passengers from around the world to rent your plane by the hour for between $2,500 to $6,500, depending on plane size. If a plane is chartered for 300 hours per year, annual operation costs can be halved.
A US-based private jet-sharing program JumpSeat, on the other hand, allows aircraft owners to “sell” open seats on flights they have planned. People can then book a spot online at a rate (anywhere from, say, $500 for a short flight on a mid-level jet to $12,000 on a cross-country flight on a high-end jet) offered by the plane owner (the company ensures would-be passengers aren’t on “no-fly” lists, too).
Where to buy that bird
While you may find a private jet through online auction site Ebay or listed in classifieds like James Edition or AvBuyer, many aviation experts recommend consulting a broker because of the intricacies involved, such as ensuring the mechanics are functional at the very least. International private aircraft broker Jetcraft based in cities like Dubai and Basel, and Maryland-based business aircraft brokerage Avpro can scour the global market to find options that match a customer’s budget and wish list.
Websites like Trade-A-Plane.com and Controller.com offer a wide range of used propeller aircraft for sale. These sites also often show other information, like most recent inspection date and results. But you’ll want hire your own mechanic to inspect a potential purchase.
Just like a used car, a prospective buyer of a pre-owned jet should dig deep into maintenance records. This is particularly important since warranties for new planes only last five-to-seven years, and once that expires the new owner assumes full responsibility for any maintenance charges.
“We’ve had first-time buyers purchase a used plane and bring it to us, but then we realise they made a huge mistake because it costs more money to fix it than it did to buy it,” Tarascio said.