Why Do People Fly Business Aircraft?

The Oct-Nov Business Jet Traveler (BJT) just arrived in my mail this past week. For the third year they published their Readers' Choice Survey. 1,100 of their subscribers responded with their thoughts and ratings regarding business aviation. The more things change, the more some things remain the same. Let's see.

The top three reasons people fly privately?

1. Save time

2. Ability to use airports the airlines don't serve

3. Ability to work enroute

No surprises. In fact all three really are about the productive use of time. You cannot save time, only spend it wisely. People who value their time use business aviation. That doesn't ever change.

The top three aircraft features among the BJT readers were:

1. Range

2. Economical operation

3. Cabin size

Speed was number five and baggage space, last on their list of choices. Economics was a surprise. Yes range and cabin are perennial favorites much as you'd expect. Speed ties directly into saving time, but not at any cost. So having the title of the World's Fastest Business Jet makes for great PR but if it is too expensive... Economics being number two makes me happy as that is how my company makes it living. I think this all ties into a Best Value for the business aviation user: saving time in a non-stop comfortable environment that makes fiscal sense.

Good news: more than half of the respondents flew the same or slightly more in 2013 than they did in 2012 and expect to fly the same or more next year. I'd say that bodes well for a slow and stable recovery. Only 4% reported that they will fly "much less than in the past year."

One set of questions were the same for fractional, jet card and charter users. It asked the respondents to rate those three sources of business aviation from 1 (low) to 5 (high) among nine factors. What interested me of those nine were customer service, value for the price paid, and overall satisfaction. All three scored very close to the same for customer service:

1. Jet Cards Customer Service = 4.20

2. Charter operators Customer Service = 4.18

3. Fractional shares Customer Service = 4.16

With no breakdown among the numbers reporting in the above categories, I'd say the average customer service levels were very good among the three types of service. I've heard anecdotally that some owners were less happy with fractional share companies but I think I have an answer there. Value was a bit different:

1. Charter value for price paid = 3.70

2. Jet Cards value for price paid = 3.70

3. Fractional shares value for price paid = 3.49

Fractional shares rated lower for value than the other two. They also rated 3.15 for Residual Value Terms. Given the drop and non-recovery in used airplane prices since 2008, I'd expect fractional shares to rate lower here versus a non-ownership option. I think this is where the fractional share owners' disappointment lies. They may have been enthusiastic about the ability of a business jet to maintain its value (or felt they were oversold on that?). When they saw that business airplanes lost value and are not recovering, they expressed their disappointment.

For overall satisfaction, I think the issue of residual values caused fractional share owners to be slightly less favorable towards their overall experience:

1. Charter overall satisfaction = 4.00

2. Jet Cards overall satisfaction = 4.00

3. Fractional shares overall satisfaction = 3.89

BJT showed overall satisfaction broken out by manufacturer for owned airplanes. No numerical average was shown so a direct comparison with charter, jet cards and fractional is a bit difficult. "Excellent" rating were from 38% to 67% except for Hawker Beechcraft at 22%. Their financial woes, especially among Hawker Beechcraft jet owners I'm sure contributed to their lowest "Excellent" ratings. But, at that, they did get 54% of their owners giving them a "Very Good" for overall satisfaction. So for the business airplane manufacturers, every one had over 80% of their customers rating them as very good or excellent. I'd say that is, well, a very good rating for ownership.

Aircraft reliability is also rated quite high among business jet owners with all the major manufacturers having very good to excellent scores by 90% or more of their owners. 

Among the business helicopters, BJT had enough scores to report on Bell and Eurocopter. Oddly, Sikorsky did not have enough responses to be included. While Bell rated above Eurocopter (excellent and very good scores) for each of the categories queried, both manufacturers had fewer excellent rating in all categories versus their business airplane owners. Not sure whether helicopter owners are a fussier group or whether, as an industry, helicopter manufacturers are not quite as good at taking care of their business-flying customers as the fixed wing folks. 

The last question asked was "If you could receive a complimentary year of flying on the following, which aircraft would you choose?"  They had four helicopter categories, two turboprop categories and seven business jet categories. You'll have to go see the survey to see if your favorites were the readers' favorites. Let me say that being given any one of those models free to use for a year would make me very happy!