4 OF THE TOP NEW LUXURY BUSINESS JETS TO WATCH OUT FOR IN 2020 AS MORE AND MORE PEOPLE SEEK OUT PRIVATE TRAVEL

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BY BEN FORREST

When the artist also known as Aubrey Graham unveiled Air Drake, his customized US$220-million-plus private jet, on Instagram last autumn, the world took notice.

Related: One man’s quest to make private jet travel more accessible to more people

This converted Boeing 767 cargo plane, roughly the size of a commercial airliner, is like a New York penthouse in the sky, with all the high-end comforts you would expect. Its massive cabin is fitted with soft, lavender-coloured sofas and about two-dozen leather recliners gathered around gleaming, highly-polished hardwood tables.

There’s at least one bedroom, a private living room, several closed compartments and an off-white exterior paint scheme punctuated with Drake’s iconic OVO logo.

“No rental, no timeshare, no co-owners,” Drake told his followers. His caption echoed the title of his third studio album: “Nothing was the same, for real.”

While this level of luxury is rare, many travellers are choosing some version of physically-distanced private air travel over crowded commercial flights during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“There’s been certainly a groundswell of demand,” said Anthony Norejko, president and CEO of the Canadian Business Aviation Association, a lobby group that represents more than 400 companies that own private aircraft.

“Both new aircraft owners (and) our charter management companies have said the same. What they’re seeing now is a pent-up demand.”

Private aviation boom

The number of business aircraft flights in Canada, the U.S., Europe and the Caribbean cratered in April, as much of the world went into lockdown due to Covid-19.

Many luxury private jet owners relocated during the early days of the pandemic, then hunkered in place until governments relaxed travel restrictions. Analysts are expecting a V-shaped recovery that is already in progress — traffic increased 84 per cent between April and May. And given the stakes of contracting a life-threatening illness, it’s expected many will look to private jet travel as long-term replacements for airline flights.

“You get to control who is on the aircraft with you,” said Norejko, listing the benefits. “You’ll be able to go when and where you want, whereas airlines are turning back all non-essential routes. And if you’re trying to get anywhere regionally in Canada, those flights are becoming limited.”

It’s worth noting that private jets and helicopters are not exclusively the domain of billionaires and corporate executives. Fractional ownership companies like Calgary-based AirSprint provide access to elite-level jets — like the eight-passenger, $18-million Embraer Legacy 450 — for about the price of a mid-level Ferrari.

“If you do a smart job on your aircraft selection … it becomes easier and easier to make the business case to have this tool available,” said Norejko.

If you’re ready to test the market, here’s a roundup of some of Canada’s most popular private jets, and a few game-changers that will help you reimagine your approach to travel.

Heavy-hitting light-weights

If you drove to university in a Honda Civic and your first roadster was Honda’s modest S2000 pocket rocket, you might take a hard look at one of the newest and most popular entry-level jets on the market: the HondaJet Elite.

This quiet, sleek and speedy model was cleared for sale in Canada last year at a base price of $5.28 million and has been a disruptor ever since. Its spacious cabin has room for up to six passengers, plus a private-belted lavatory and full-service galley, with two-toned leather seats, WiFi access and a speaker-less sound system that adapts to various flight conditions.

Competitors like the Embraer Phenom 100EV and Cessna Citation M2 are also popular, but the HondaJet has been the world’s most-delivered aircraft in its class for the last three years.

Off-road-ready

The smallest airports in the world — including many in Canada — don’t have the long, smooth, highway-quality blacktops most jets require to take off and land.

Many have short grass or gravel runways that can normally only accommodate the small propeller-driven aircraft you’ll see at hobby flying clubs across the country.

Enter the Pilatus PC-24, the world’s first “sport utility jet” (US$10 million), able to land on grass and gravel and access virtually every airport in the world.

With room for up to six passengers and a range of 1,800 nautical miles (2,000 nm with four passengers), you can safely touch down in cottage country, northern Canada or remote locations in warmer climates.

If comfort is a higher priority than accessibility, Embraer’s Legacy 450 and the Cessna Citation families have both been popular with fractional owners in Canada. 

Ultra-long range jets

Montreal-based Bombardier has been a leader in private aviation for decades, thanks in part to its popular and deeply revered Learjet, Challenger and Global Express brands.

But as the company goes all-in on business jets (after selling its commercial airliner and train divisions), it’s out to change the game.

Its new flagship Global 7500 model (US$73 million) has room for up to 19 passengers with a remarkable 7,700 nm range, capable of connecting New York to Hong Kong and Singapore to San Francisco at a top speed of Mach 0.925.

A private master suite, conference area, entertainment suite, large galley and a dedicated crew suite are among the features available.

This is Bombardier’s answer to the popular ultra-long-range Gulfstream G650, which hit the market in 2012 and costs around $65 million. Other competitors include the $58-million Dassault Falcon 8X and Embraer’s $75-million Lineage 1000E.

Next-level luxury  

If Air Drake is the model you aspire to, customizing an older-model airliner is certainly an option. But newer options are also available.

Boeing Business Jets (BBJ) and Airbus Corporate Jets set the standard for VIP travel — albeit at a steep price.

A new BBJ 787 Dreamliner costs $200 million-plus and is a favourite of charter companies, national governments and next-level billionaires.

These mini-mansions-on-the-go provide an unparalleled level of luxury, with room for up to 40 passengers, a large master bedroom, walk-in showers and spacious, sophisticated lounge areas with designer furniture that will make you think of home.

No matter your price range, this is within reach through private jet charters, fractional time-shares or full ownership. As the world re-opens after the pandemic’s first wave, most of us are ready to roam — and there’s no doubt, this really is the best way to travel.

IMAGE SOURCES: BOMBARDIER.COM, HONDAJET.COM, BOEING.COM, PILATUS-AIRCRAFT.COM, KESTREL AVIATION MANAGEMENT