What Does it Cost to Operate a Light Jet?

What does it cost to own and operate a business aircraft? Working through the different categories, David Wyndham outlines some of the common characteristics of each, and considers the scale of the associated costs…

David Wyndham  |  07th April 2020
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    David Wyndham
    David Wyndham

    David Wyndham has extensive expertise in aircraft sales and acquisitions, asset management, cost and...

    Cessna Citation M2 Private Jet on Airport Ramp

    When referring to Light Jets, this article considers aircraft that typically seat five to seven passengers, have a step-down aisle, very limited galley and storage space, and a small lavatory that may have a seatbelt for use as an extra seat.

    Cabin heights in this category (with the stepdown aisle) requires adults to stoop while entering and exiting and tends to measure 60 inches or less).

    Meanwhile, the range capabilities within this class vary, and non-stop range with full seats tends to come between 1,000nm and 1,800nm. Light Jet range is often weight limited (meaning that operators can carry full fuel with limited passengers, or maximum passengers with limited fuel and range). Most flights in the category last less than 1.5 hours.

    Aircraft typical of this category include Cessna’s Citation 500 series (from Citation I up to the CJ3), the Beechjet 400, Bombardier Learjet 31 and 35 series, Embraer’s Phenom 100 and 300 series, and the HondaJet.

    Note: Very Light Jets such as the Cirrus SF50 VisionJet and Eclipse 550 are smaller than this category’s limits.

    How Much Does it Cost to Buy a Light Jet?

    Acquisition costs for new models in this category run from $4.5m up to $9.5m list price. Pre-owned prices for Light Jets aged between five and 10 years old typically run between $2m to about $5m. Buyers willing to purchase Light Jets older than 30 years can find airworthy examples on the market for less than $1m.

    According to AMSTAT data, at the end of February 2020 the Light category had 8,649 active jets of which 998 were actively listed for sale, with an average asking price under $1.6m on the used market.

    Placing a pre-owned aircraft into service is likely to require additional funds. A buyer may elect to spend $350,000 or more on upgrades, paint and interior refurbishment. Major maintenance checks may also be due soon for an aircraft and require budgeting for.

    Engine overhauls vary considerably across this category. If the engines are close to overhaul and not on a guaranteed hourly maintenance plan, then $500,000 to $700,000 should be budgeted per engine for the overhaul.

    What’s the Operating Cost of a Light Jet?

    Operating costs for Light Jets depend on the type and age of the aircraft. Below are some averages, taken from the Conklin & de Decker Report, that have been rounded off:

    • Average variable cost per hour: $1,835
    • Fuel*: $921
    • Maintenance: $500
    • Parts, Labor, Major Maintenance Reserves, Engine Reserves: $414

    *Fuel cost will depend on fuel price per gallon and fuel burn

    What are the Data Costs for a Light Jet?

    Another variable cost to budget for is Wi-Fi (airborne Internet). This cost will vary based on the type of connection, speed, and amount of data used, and where you fly. Maintaining internet connectivity ranges from an air-to-ground system (North America) or a basic satellite system.

    There are different installation and rate plan options designed to fit the needs of both the passengers and pilots. New installations for an airborne internet system can run anywhere from $150,000+.

    Monthly rates based on data used and download speeds can run from $1,000 to $10,000 per month for moderate use, depending on the plan and equipment.

    What are the Fixed Costs of a Light Jet?

    For Light Jets, fixed costs typically come in the region of $700,000 per year, including the following:

    • Salaries
    • Training
    • Hangar
    • Insurance
    • Refurbishment

    Salaries & Training: The pay for pilots ranges from $100,000 to $115,000 per pilot, depending on job duties and level of experience. Pilots will also need training at least annually, and that can cost between $20,000 and $30,000 for two crew members. A third pilot is sometimes hired to help maintain a busy flight schedule.

    While many Light Jet owners make use of their FBO and local service center for maintenance, if you choose to employ an aircraft maintenance engineer or technician, you can expect to pay a salary of $80,000+ per year. The engineer/technician can take care of much of the routine maintenance and handle maintenance planning and control.

    If the schedule is complex, involving frequent changes and multiple individuals who can authorize use of the aircraft, a flight scheduler is recommended. Their salary can cost approximately $60,000 per year.

    All in, three pilots plus one maintenance engineer (with salaries, benefits and training) will cost $300,000+ annually.

    Hangar: For hangar rental, plan on an annual fee between $25,000 and $30,000 in a typical metropolitan area. Higher cost areas, such as New York City, Hong Kong or Geneva, will cost significantly more.

    Insurance: For Light Jets, insurance can range between $20,000 and $40,000 depending on the aircraft value and liability limits. If the aircraft spends a lot of time outside of developed countries, those costs may increase substantially.

    Refurbishment: Paint and interior refurbishment should also be considered. A new interior and paint job may last from seven to nine years with excellent care. Depending on the level of completion, materials, and extra features, you should budget $250,000 to $400,000 for this work.

    What’s the Overall Cost of Owning a Light Jet?

    Additional costs that can be incurred include acquiring aircraft technical publications for the aircraft and flight crew, plus additional maintenance, office and travel expenses.

    The overall cost of owning a Light Jet is approximately $1.45m per year, assuming your operation flies 400 hours annually. This excludes the costs of capital, taxes and depreciation.

    For the latest light jets for sale worldwide check out our new Light Jets for Sale section. 

    Did you find this article helpful? Read the rest of the series:

    Read More About: Light Jets

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    David Wyndham

    David Wyndham

    Editor, Ownership & Operating Costs

    David Wyndham has extensive expertise in aircraft sales and acquisitions, asset management, cost and budget analysis and finance fundamentals. With several decades supporting aircraft owners and operators in making fully-informed decisions about their aircraft needs, his expertise spans from the flight department to the executive boardroom.

    David is the founder of David Wyndham + Associates, and previously he was a Co-owner and President of Conklin & de Decker where he consulted with large corporations, individuals, and government agencies on their aircraft needs.



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