The private jet industry has been a bit more optimistic lately, in part because of business travelers like Mark Dowley who use it to patch holes in the domestic air travel system.
Dowley, an executive for a private equity firm and a marketing consultant, said he still flew commercial planes on the long, nonstop routes that airlines offer in abundance. But he will sometimes take a business jet to a smaller destination — the kind of place that could take an additional three hours or more to reach by commercial plane. So he may fly commercially from New York to San Francisco for a meeting in San Jose, and then fly by private jet to San Diego for more meetings.
He said he used private jets “as a filler” to circumvent time-consuming airline schedules that often require inconvenient connections, even on short hops.
He buys hourly flight time on a light jet through NetJets, the leading player in the fractional ownership market, which also sells per-hour private jet flying through its Marquis jet-card program. He said he flew more than 300,000 miles a year for business, about 90% on commercial jets and 10 % on private jets.
“Commercial air is more cost-efficient, but private is a massive timesaver,” Dowley said. “I’m very judicious with the private flying time, though, to manage the cost.”
The industry has been struggling since the recession hit and criticism arose over corporate executives’ use of private jets.
But deteriorating commercial airline service has underscored one of the rationales long cited for flying privately: the efficient use of business time.
According to the annual forecast by Honeywell, deliveries of business jets this year will probably grow only slightly over last year’s total of fewer than 650 planes, which in turn was down about 15% from 2010. The peak year was 2008, when 1,139 jets were delivered.
NetJets, a Berkshire Hathaway subsidiary, remains the market leader. But the second-largest company in the fractional-share market, Flight Options, reported that its business had grown for three consecutive years.
Kenn Ricci, chairman of Flight Options, which operates a fleet of more than 100 private jets, said his company had a 53% increase in new fractional owners last year, when it took delivery of 14 new jets. Those were among the more than 140 it had on order.
“We have stabilized the business and made Flight Options into a much better company than it was — a good alternative,”