In Warren Buffett’s annual letter to shareholders in 1989, he compared his new private jet with the prayer apocryphally attributed to Saint Augustine. As Augustine contemplated leaving a life of secular pleasures, he is said to have looked to the heavens and pleaded: “Help me, Oh Lord, to become chaste. But not yet.” With his famously frugal business partner Charles Munger (who prefers to ride a coach for long-distance travel, according to Buffett), he settled on naming the jet The Indefensible. That year, the jet helped Buffett to deliver US$1.5 billion growth in his company’s net worth.
Whether you admire the Sage of Omaha or are more inclined to side with his thriftier partner, no one can dispute that flying privately gets you where you want to, more quickly and more comfortably than commercial airlines. Whether you choose to use that extra time watching your kid’s school play, sailing your yacht or maximising business meetings is up to you.
In 1989, Warren Buffett had two choices: buy his own aircraft, or charter. Today, there are many different ways to fly privately. You can book your aircraft with a couple of clicks via an app or through any number of brokers. You could opt for a programme where you tie in with a provider for a set number of hours. You can buy outright, too. Today there are more jets, companies and options than ever for sale and it is a buyer’s market.
Ultimately there are four key ways to fly privately. The best solution for you will depend on how often you fly, how far ahead you can commit, and whether at heart you’re a Buffett or a Munger.
Scenario 1: Charter
You’ve always fancied going to Art Basel and after making your first major investment in a Cy Twombly earlier this year, you’ve been invited to the preview day. The only problem is it is your wife’s birthday and you need to be home for a family dinner. Your solution? Charter a jet for the day. You leave home in the morning, fly to the fair (and pick up a present there), and you are back home in time for dinner.
Best for: Ad hoc, infrequent flyers
Aircraft: You’re happy to try different aircraft and operators
Price: The best-possible deal
Scenario 2: Private jet card
Work is really ramping up this year as you head for an IPO. Those long, lazy holidays at the summerhouse are going to be tough to make this year. So you decide to invest in a private jet card. Now you’re out the office on a Friday afternoon, in the sky and by 8pm you’re overlooking the sea having dinner with your family. You get a full 48 hours with them over the weekend before heading back on Sunday night… and the odd time you even change your mind and stay over until Monday.
Best for: Travelling privately five to 10 times per year
Aircraft: You want to use the same type of aircraft
Schedule: Guaranteed availability with reasonable notice
Price: Fixed costs over 12 months
Scenario 3: Fractional ownership
You’ve started to notice what a difference flying privately makes. You see your family and friends more, you’re in the office more and you’re not nearly as tired as you used to be. In fact you’re starting to forget what an airline lounge looks like. You’ve decided flying privately is for you. You’re prepared to invest in an aircraft where you can simplify the way you book and fly. It’s time to consider a fraction of an aircraft as you know you’re going to be flying once a month.
Best for: Regular monthly private flyers, looking to fly for a few years
Aircraft: One type of aircraft and you enjoy the familiarity of flying with the same operator
Schedule: Short notice
Price: Fixed costs of flying for several years and your company might be able to get a depreciation benefit for your business flying
Scenario 4: Buy your own
Your family is now firmly ensconced in its new home in Monaco, and you are all going back and forth to London and various schools across Europe. You are trying to fit in board meetings across the globe in the remaining days and it’s starting to feel like you spend your life in a private jet. Your schedule changes constantly and even the guaranteed availability offered by your current operator is not enough. Every time you get on an aircraft, you start dreaming about how you would do things differently if it was yours.
Best for: Flying at least once a week
Aircraft: Same aircraft, bespoke interiors, your hand-picked crew
Schedule: Very short-notice travel or constant changes to your itinerary are the norm. Or you may need aircraft and crew on standby for long periods
Price: Money is no object
Nicolas and Emily have been in the private aviation industry for more than 20 years and are co-founders of I&W Aviation (www.iwaviation.com). They advise individuals and corporations globally with independent market advice and day-to-day oversight of their private flying.