The artist also known as Aubrey Graham unveiled Air Drake, his customized US$220-million-plus private jet, on Instagram last autumn. Everyone took notice. And people who have ever looked at business jets, in terms of an investment, noticed as well.
This converted Boeing 767 cargo plane, roughly the size of a commercial airliner, is like a New York penthouse in the sky. And talk about relaxation. Drake’s jet has all the high-end comforts you would expect, including a massive cabin fitted with soft, lavender-coloured sofas. Another thing that stands out looking at the images – two-dozen leather recliners gathered around gleaming, highly-polished hardwood tables.
For those longer flights, there is one bedroom, a private living room, and several closed compartments. And to make a further statement, the off-white exterior paint scheme is 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.”
This level of luxury is rare, for sure. However many travellers are choosing some version of physically-distanced private air travel over crowded commercial flights during the pandemic.
“There’s been certainly a groundswell of demand,” said Anthony Norejko, president and CEO of the Canadian Business Aviation Association. Norejko’s organization is 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 thing. 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. That of course was no surprise, since much of the world went into lockdown due to COVID-19.
Many luxury private jet owners relocated during the early days of the pandemic. They hunkered in place until governments relaxed travel restrictions. But the world is slowly emerging from the pandemic now. Analysts are expecting a V-shaped recovery. And the numbers bear that out, so far. Traffic increased 84 per cent between April and May. With health stakes still really high, it’s expected many will look to private jet travel as long-term replacements for airline flights.
“Clients get to control who is on the aircraft,” said Norejko, listing the benefits. “They’ll be able to go when and where they want. Airlines are turning back all non-essential routes. And if you’re trying to get anywhere regionally in Canada, those flights are becoming limited.”
Business jets: Fractional ownership another option
It’s worth noting that business jets and helicopters are not exclusively the domain of billionaires and corporate executives. There are other options. 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 to make the business case to have this tool available,” said Norejko.
So are you ready to test the market? Here’s a roundup of some of Canada’s most popular private jets. Plus we included a few game-changers that will help you reimagine your approach to travel.
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Business jets: Heavy-hitting light-weights
The HondaJet Elite is a quiet, sleek and speedy model, and was cleared for sale in Canada last year at a base price of $5.28 million. Since then, the Honda has been an industry disruptor. It’s beautiful to look at – a spacious cabin that has room for up to six passengers, plus a private-belted lavatory and full-service galley. On top of that, there are 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 choices. But the truth about Honda’s impact is in the numbers. HondaJet has been the world’s most-delivered aircraft in its class for the last three years.
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 of those airports have short grass or gravel runways. And those 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). The Pilatus is able to land on grass and gravel, accessing virtually every airport in the world. With room for up to six passengers, the jet has a range of 1,800 nautical miles (2,000 nm with four passengers). So that means passengers can safely touch down in places like cottage country, northern Canada or remote locations in warmer climates, if they feel like it.
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
Back home, Montreal-based Bombardier has been a leader in private aviation for decades, And that’s been in large part due 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.
Bombardier’s new flagship Global 7500 model (US$73 million) has room for up to 19 passengers, and has a remarkable 7,700 nm range. To illustrate, the Global 7500 is capable of connecting New York to Hong Kong and Singapore to San Francisco at a top speed of Mach 0.925. And comfort is king. A private master suite, conference area, entertainment suite, large galley and a dedicated crew suite are among the features available.
The new Global 7500 is Bombardier’s answer to the popular ultra-long-range Gulfstream G650. That $65 million business jet hit the market in 2012. Other competitors include the $58-million Dassault Falcon 8X and Embraer’s $75-million Lineage 1000E.
So perhaps Air Drake is the model you aspire to. Certainly you can customize an older-model airliner. But newer options are also available.
They are at an understandably steeper price, but Boeing Business Jets (BBJ) and Airbus Corporate Jets set the standard for VIP travel. A new BBJ 787 Dreamliner costs $200 million-plus. Not surprisingly, it is a favourite of charter companies, national governments and next-level billionaires. The Dreamliner is pretty extraordinary. Overall, these mini-mansions-on-the-go provide an unparalleled level of luxury.
Go down the list – room for up to 40 passengers, a large master bedroom, walk-in showers and spacious, sophisticated lounge areas with designer furniture. You’ll feel like you have stepped into a luxury home.
No matter your price range, it’s all 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. With that in mind, there’s just no doubt. Private jets really are the best way to travel
IMAGE SOURCES: BOMBARDIER, HONDAJET, BOEING, PILATUS-AIRCRAFT, KESTREL AVIATION MANAGEMENT