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Aircraft Charter 101:
Smart shopping makes for satisfying lift.
The advantages of using private aircraft for business travel continue to grow as airlines continue to shrink the number of markets served- raise prices and charge for once-covered services- observes Dave Higdon. Not every company can justify owning an aircraft- but charter offers Business Aviation benefits with minimum investment.

Picking the correct airplane for the planned business trip involves so much more than ascertaining its size. There are many other variables that apply within a range of seating capacities. This first of three articles explains how airplane sizes can mask- limit or fulfill the mission – and how to define what you need when selecting a charter aircraft for your mission.

Three major elements in particular should be weighed- including passenger count- flight-leg length and destination airport.

How many seats a business aircraft offers can mask limitations on the use of those seats- thus failing to answer the question- “What aircraft do I need for my mission?” Light jets- many medium and some large category jets typically offer cabin configurations seating six to eight passengers- and some even 10. But they vary greatly in their ability to use those seats.

It’s a fundamental of small and medium private aircraft that the number of seats you can fill is inversely proportional to the distance you need to fly. On any given flight the more people you put in the cabin- the less fuel the airplane can carry – and fuel carried influences range potential.

A jet capable of carrying fuel to fly 1-200 miles may only be able to carry crew and one or two passengers when fueled for its maximum range. But as jets get bigger their ability to carry maximum fuel and maximum people more closely align. Factor this into your selection of the right charter aircraft for the mission.

Once the passenger count is known- the next step is to consider the mission distance. The length of the trip (or its longest leg- if several) can better help define need versus want more than any other factor except passenger count.

Virtually any business jet can handle four to five passengers for a non-stop 500-mile leg- for example. Conversely- few light-category jets can carry five plus luggage and still launch with fuel to go their maximum potential range. To fly a trip with a 1-200-1-500-mile range requirement carrying five- plus crew- you will generally need to look for a jet in the larger-medium category.

It may still seat only six to eight- but its larger cabin and engines typically also come with fuel sufficient to fly longer legs. The aircraft will be bigger than a light jet in cabin volume- but no bigger than most in seating capacity.

In order to avoid stopping for fuel on a 1-200 mile trip with five or six employees- you probably will require the range capability of a medium jet. The added cost differential between a medium and light business jet needs to be balanced against the time and inconvenience of making one or more stops en route.

Conversely- the light jet costs significantly less than a medium jet - and if it can accommodate the needed passengers on a shorter 500- to 750-mile business trip- there is no need to pay more for a medium jet over a shorter range. The relative flight times won’t vary enough to make the marginally-faster medium jet worth the money in time saved.

The final parameter to weigh when shopping for a charter flight: Do you have a choice of airports at which to arrive- or is your choice limited to just one? The importance of this question revolves- once again- around airplane performance.

Some jets need more runway than others (with size the usual guideline): the bigger the airplane- the more runway is needed. If the airport runway measures 4-000 feet in length (for example) and the Vice President- Regional Sales is tall and dislikes smaller aircraft- therefore favoring medium jets- the selected jet must be able to safely use that 4-000-foot runway. That’s unlikely for many medium jets (but useable by most light jets capable of carrying the five or six passengers of our discussion).

Personal preferences aside- the Vice President- Regional Sales won’t enjoy much luck trying to convince a legitimate- safety-oriented charter operation to risk damaging their airplane by trying to land on a runway that is too short. With this factored- you are left with the choice of the smaller airplane (and money saved)- or picking the closest airport with enough runway for the larger aircraft and accepting the longer drive to the business meeting.

The above scenarios are used for illustrative purposes only- but they should serve to demonstrate that picking the right charter solution for your company is a tailor-made process to address your exact needs- flight-by-flight.

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