What are the 5 Most-Flown Business Aircraft in Europe?

Europe is a key market for the Business Aviation sector, with varying demands across geographies and market segments. Gerrard Cowan looks at the most-used aircraft in the continent today, asking industry experts to outline the factors that explain their success.

Gerrard Cowan  |  02nd May 2024
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    Gerrard Cowan
    Gerrard Cowan

    Gerrard Cowan is a freelance journalist who focuses on aerospace and finance. In addition to his regular...

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    Pilatus PC-12 NGX flying by mountain range

    According to WingX Advance, the top five business aircraft (turboprops and jets) by European departures between February 1, 2023 and February 29, 2024 were led by the Pilatus PC-12, which had 64,274 departures, or 8.3% of the total.

    Next was the Cessna Citation Excel/XLS (7.3%), followed by the Beechcraft King Air 200 (6.9%), the Embraer Phenom 300 (5.6%), then the Bombardier Challenger 300/350 (3.6%).

    So what explains the popularity of these aircraft? According to Carmen Munguía, Director of Aircraft Sales & Acquisition at Gestair, a Spain-based provider of Business Aviation services, the five aircraft “are excellent for intercontinental transfers, have medium-to-large capacities for the most part, and are able to comfortably transform into night configurations”.

    Marcel Wepfer, Charter Sales Director at AXIS Aviation, points to the performance characteristics of the five aircraft, along with their versatility. They align with European Business Aviation needs, he says.

    “In the Light and Mid-Size jet market this often involves a mix of short-haul and medium-range flights, connecting major business centers (led by London and Paris) and accessing industrial hubs or leisure destinations (led by Nice, Geneva, Zurich, Ibiza, Malaga, etc.),” Wepfer explains.

    These aircraft are well-suited for their roles due to their range capabilities, operational efficiency, and ability to utilize a range of airports, Wepfer notes, “which is critical for Europe’s diverse and dense aviation landscape.”

    #1 - Pilatus PC-12

    The Pilatus PC-12 has served the European and global Business Aviation markets for more than 30 years. The latest variant, the PC-12NGX, was introduced by Pilatus in 2020. The single-engine turboprop has a PT6E-67XP engine and a cabin seating up to nine passengers, while featuring a Pilatus Advanced Cockpit Environment (ACE) based on the Honeywell Primus Epic 2.0 avionics system.

    The aircraft is “renowned for its versatility, efficiency, and ability to operate from shorter runways, making it ideal for accessing smaller airports and regions with limited infrastructure”, says Wepfer.

    Eymeric Segard, CEO of Business Aviation specialists LunaJets and LunaSolutions, also emphasizes the versatility of the PC-12. “It can commercially operate at Saanen (Gstaad) and La Môle (St Tropez) airports, key European VIP destinations, amongst a few others, saving passengers a lot of time on the road.”

    Overall, he believes the turboprop’s low operating costs, reliability, runway performance and other factors “make it an extremely practical and efficient aircraft for operators”, some of whom are flying their aircraft more than 800 hours a year.

    Tim Barber, who specializes in the EMEA Business Aviation market at Duncan Aviation, says that when someone buys an aircraft, “they of course want to know the cost of operating it, but they are also generally interested in the depreciation profile. In the case of some exceptional models such as the PC-12, it’s not unusual to see pre-owned models with pricing above the actual new purchase price.”

    This kind of appreciation is something Duncan Aviation has seen across the board in recent years, though such occurrences are now diminishing.

    Last year (2023) was a record year for the PC-12 NGX, with 101 deliveries globally, bringing total sales of the PC-12 to over 2,000. A Pilatus spokesperson notes that with its highly efficient Pratt & Whitney Canada PT6E-67XP engine and being a “single”, the PC-12 NGX emits relatively low levels of carbon. It is also approved to operate on Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF) at blends of up 50%.

    “The real luxury though is its possibility to operate on very short or even unpaved runways taking passengers closer to their final destinations, cutting travel and transit times to a minimum,” the spokesperson adds.

    #2 - Cessna Citation XLS

    An upgrade on the Citation Excel, the Cessna Citation XLS is typically configured for eight passengers, plus crew. It features a modern glass cockpit based on the Honeywell Primus 1000 EFIS suite and is powered by two PW545B engines. Subsequent XLS model upgrades have included the XLS+ and latterly the XLS Gen2.

    For Wepfer, “the Cessna Citation XLS is popular due to its balance of range, speed, and comfort, coupled with relatively low operating costs for a Mid-Size Jet.”

    George Galanopoulos, CEO of LuxAviation UK, says the Citation XLS is the most popular Mid-Size Jet in his company’s UK fleet. In Galanopoulos’s opinion, it “offers the best value for money”.

    Duncan Van De Velde, Vice President of Sales for EMEA at Textron Aviation, says the Citation XLS and Citation Latitude have been extremely popular aircraft for the company since their introduction, which he ascribes to their “versatility and comfort”.

    Van De Velde says the company is seeing interest in other aircraft in its stable due to recent innovations, including the Cessna Citation Ascend (which is due to enter service in 2025).

    #3 – Beechcraft King Air 200

    The Beechcraft King Air 200 has a long lineage, having first been developed in the early 1970s. The latest variant, the King Air 260, can carry up to nine passengers, and the twin-engine turboprop features a Collins Aerospace Pro Line Fusion avionics suite.

    Segard said that turboprops like the King Air and Pilatus PC-12 are extremely popular for various reasons. Notably, they’re “the most cost-effective options to charter, given their low operating costs as well as their performance on short field runways”.

    For manufacturer Textron Aviation, “the King Air 260, with its reliable turboprop engines and luxurious interior, appeals to customers looking for a versatile and cost- effective solution for regional travel,” says Van de Velde.

    More broadly, he notes that different variants of the King Air series – along with the Citation range – each has “its own set of unique features tailored to different customer preferences and mission profiles”.

    #4 - Embraer Phenom 300

    The Embraer Phenom 300 series is arguably the most successful aircraft in the Embraer private jet range, says Galanopoulos. This is down to “great runway performance, range and operating economics”, he says.

    The latest version of the aircraft - the Phenom 300E - can carry a maximum of 10 passengers. It is powered by Pratt & Whitney PW535E1 powerplants and features a Prodigy Touch Flight Deck (G3000).

    Tomas Camprudi, Managing Director of LunaJets UK, says Super Light Jets, like the Phenom 300 range, have seen substantial success lately due to their newer and more spacious cabins, as well as their improved range.

    “We have seen a post-Covid trend of passengers opting for larger cabins when possible,” Camprubi notes. “The large fleet operators such as NetJets and VistaJet also operate these models of aircraft, which naturally adds to the volume recorded.”

    #5 Bombardier Challenger 300/350

    The Super Mid-Size Bombardier Challenger 300 was designed to bridge the gap between Bombardier’s Learjet range and the larger Challenger 600 series. The aircraft is typically configured to seat eight to 10 passengers and features a pair of HTF7000 powerplants and a ProLine 21 avionics suite.

    Max Hooper, Co-Founder of Corporate Jet Consulting (CJC), says the Challenger 300 and newer Challenger 350 carries a prestige factor for entrants into the business jet sector and has high levels of comfort. It is also popular with operators like Vistajet, he notes.

    The cabin size is only slightly smaller than a larger jet (such as the Challenger 604/605), notes Camprudi, “yet the price is 10-20% less, giving this model a very competitive cost/comfort ratio in the up-to-eight passengers [in typical configuration], stand-up, with flight attendant, category.”

    Mathieu Noël, Bombardier’s Director of Product and Market Strategy, highlights that the company recently upgraded the Challenger 350 with the Challenger 3500, with the newer aircraft featuring a range of additions, including the Nuage seat.

    “For the first time, a seat of this caliber is available in the Super Mid-Size Jet segment,” he adds.

    Future Evolution of Flight Requirements in Europe?

    Leah Alexander who also specializes in the EMEA Business Aviation market at Duncan Aviation says that while the Light and Super Mid-Size Jet categories continue to dominate flight activity in Europe, the Ultra-Long-Range category was the only jet segment to have seen an increase in flight hours between 2022 and 2023.

    “This also aligns with what we've seen in aircraft acquisition demand, which is particularly strong from buyers with intercontinental business interests,” she adds.

    Wepfer notes that the European operational landscape is characterized by varied mission profiles and a mix of airport types, meaning there is no such thing as a ‘one-size-fits-all’ private jet. Still, every operator would likely opt for ‘bigger, faster, further’, he notes.

    “But behind every aircraft managed by an operator there is usually an aircraft owner who selects the aircraft not on the basis of the operator's wishes, but on the basis of its own flight profile, taking into account operational flexibility, economics, range, comfort and reliability.” z

    More information from:
    AXIS Aviation: https://axis-aviation.com
    Bombardier: www.bombardier.com
    Corporate Jet Consulting: www.cjc.aero
    Duncan Aviation: www.duncanaviation.aero
    Gestair: www.gestair.com
    LunaJets: www.lunajets.com
    Luxaviation UK: www.luxaviation.com
    Pilatus Aircraft: www.pilatusaircraft.com
    Textron Aviation: https://txtav.com
    WingX Advance: https://wingx-advance.com

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