It was the day before Game 3 of the 2016 NBA Eastern Conference Finals, and LeBron James was stuck on the tarmac of a Toronto airport with his Cleveland Cavaliers teammates, bored out of his mind while customs slowly processed their arrival.
James sat with Canadian power forward Tristan Thompson and veteran guards J.R. Smith and Richard Jefferson on stairs leading up to their chartered plane, lamenting the fact they had nothing to do but wait.
“We’re being held by customs,” said Jefferson moments earlier, in a video posted to Twitter. “Do you think that has anything to do with the fact we’re up 2-0?”
The Cavs won the championship that year, hurdling the Toronto Raptors along the way. But their high profile pre-game headache was further proof of something we already knew.
Even at its best, conventional air travel isn’t great.
And yet, private jet ownership — a much better way to fly — is well within reach of most celebrities and high-net-worth individuals. Here’s a primer on how to enter the market.
If you’re on a budget or testing the waters of private aviation for the first time, fractional ownership is an increasingly popular option.
As the name suggests, this model allows you to buy a “fraction” of an aircraft — say, 1/32 of its total value — for a relatively small one-time capital purchase, plus an annual overhead fee and an hourly rate for the time you spend on-board.
Depending on the size of your buy-in, you’re guaranteed a certain number of flight hours each year, and you can book flights with as little as little as eight hours’ notice.
The up-front capital cost can be as low as $550,000 for a 1/32 share of an Embraer 450 Legacy jet with AirSprint, a Calgary-based fractional ownership company. This guarantees 25 hours of flight time each year, with an hourly rate of about $3,800 and annual plane management fees of around $88,000.
If you decide to sell your share, the initial capital cost is returned, minus depreciation. You also have access to equivalent aircraft in the company fleet if you choose to fly when your jet is in service with another owner.
Ultimately, you have on-call access to a US$17 million aircraft for the price of a high-end sports car.
“I found that fractional meets my needs better than outright ownership,” said the celebrity investment banker Brett Wilson, in an interview with The Globe and Mail.
“There’s so much flexibility in terms of point-to-point flights, and having access to a fleet of aircraft in North America is pretty amazing.”
Though some fractional owners swear by this model, critics point to high ownership service costs that add up over time.
Edmonton-based Aurora Jet Partners offers a slightly different shared ownership system based on straightforward “partnerships” between two or more aircraft buyers.
The company matches you with an aircraft and fellow buyer based on your needs and travel habits, providing many of the same benefits of whole ownership at a reduced cost.
Aurora Jet Partners charges a flat management fee and shared operational costs based on the proportional use of the aircraft. The idea is to ensure transparent pricing with no hidden fees or surcharges.
As with fractional ownership, aircraft partners have access to turn-key service, including access to pilots and other crew, as well as aircraft maintenance service, customized hangar arrangements and many other benefits.
If you fly more than 150 hours a year and are ready for full aircraft ownership, several Canadian brokerage firms are positioned to guide you through the acquisition process.
Brokers are immersed in the world of private aviation and pride themselves on industry knowledge. They do the research for you, liaise with vendors on your behalf, and work to secure the best price.
Flightpath, a Canadian company with locations in Winnipeg, Charlottetown, Montreal, Toronto, Kitchener and Barrie, Ont., has a suite of services, including purchase planning.
Toronto-based companies NovaJet, Air Charter Service and Skyservice also help with aircraft acquisitions. If you’re looking for a brand-new, entry-level aircraft, Skyservice is also Canada’s exclusive HondaJet dealer.
In any event, luxury private jet ownership — partial or complete — is well within your reach. Ask anyone who’s been stuck on a runway or stranded in a terminal, NBA players included.
Flying is the worst, if you’re not in control. It’s time to level up.
Top image: Aurora Jet Challenger 350