Mayday – you can’t pick up a private jet! The sumptuously luxurious planes are suddenly so popular there’s a global shortage, writes JANE FRYER

  • Operators struggling to cope with demand after surge in the use of private jets
  • More than 4.3 million private jet flights have taken place this year, data shows
  • The Isle of Man alone is home to more private jets than France, Italy or Spain
  • It comes as more than 400 private jets flew into local airports for Cop26

Life must feel a slog for Britain’s beleaguered billionaires. 

It’s bad enough they’ve had to spend much of the past 18 months holed up in one of their luxury properties, scraping by during a catastrophic scarcity of Michelin-starred chefs and multilingual nannies.

Even worse, supply issues have caused a worrying shortage of vintage Champagne for this Christmas and they can’t lay their hands on a case of 2015 Romanee-Conti Grand Cru, perfect burgundy with the turkey at £24,000 bottle, for love nor money.

And now there’s a global shortage of private jets, even second-hand models once owned by dodgy Russians or Taylor Swift.

Not because, finally, sufficient members of the uber wealthy have come to their senses, seen how bad private jets are for the environment, opted for easyJet and the bottom has fallen out of the market. No, quite the opposite.

A stock image of a private jet. Operators are struggling to cope with demand following a surge in the use of private jets

Instead, a record-breaking surge in private jet use by the super-rich has fuelled the shortage in planes as operators struggle to cope with demand. 

So far this year, more than 4.3 million private jet flights have taken place, according to the aviation data provider Wingx.

In the first week of November alone they were up 54 per cent on the same period last year and up 16 per cent on 2019.

And while mega-rich Americans seem to be driving the boom, Britons are very much in the game. It turns out the Isle of Man alone is home to more private jets than France, Italy or Spain, for goodness sake.

The extraordinary demand is apparently driven by a combination of the erratic return of commercial flights — with pared- down timetables and constantly changing flight times — and the extraordinary boom in wealth of the world’s richest people, few of whom blink before snapping up a £45 million Gulfstream.

If only they could. Because the average waiting time now for a brand new jet is well over a year.

Regardless of whether you’re after the ever-popular Bombardier BD 700 Global Express that can accommodate 12-16 passengers and is favoured by Steven Spielberg, Bill Gates and Celine Dion. Or even the super long-range BBJ 777X that seats 75 guests and will set you back over £300 million.

Oh, how frustrating! The whole process will take even longer if, like Taylor and Oprah, you’re keen to splash a bit more cash to customise your plane inside and out.

After all, what could be nicer than creating a cosy home from home with feather beds, Italian marble bathroom, gym, priceless artworks, ornate fireplace complete with fake fire and even a hand-stitched leather roulette table to perk up all those dreary flying hours. 

A couple share a glass of champagne aboard a private jet. Aviation data has shown more than 4.3 million private jet flights have taken place this year

Taylor has her birthday, 13, painted on the outside. Oprah has a lovely seating area.

Even the second-hand market has been ‘picked dry’ with ferocious bidding wars for used planes and huge premiums being paid for prompt delivery of new aircraft.

Luxury fleet operators such as NetJets and Flexjet — which have enlarged their fleets and are operating more and more flights — are no longer taking on new customers for their entry-level membership programmes. 

To cap that off, pretty much every aspect of the industry — parts, mechanics, air crew and engines (the waiting time for them has increased tenfold) — is in short supply.

All of which seems a teeny bit odd given the climate change crisis and the recent efforts by world leaders at Cop26 to control global warming.

Because, as we all know, this is one of the most environmentally unfriendly forms of transport.

The average decent-sized private jet roars through about 380 gallons of fuel, emits two tonnes of CO2 for every hour in flight and generates an annual fuel bill of about £250,000. 

To put that in context, the total carbon footprint of an average person — including all travel and food — is approximately eight tonnes per year.

No wonder environmentalists went bananas when more than 400 private jets — carrying barely 1,000 world leaders, business execs and their staff — roared into local airports for Cop26. 

The interior of bedroom of private jet Airbus ACJ319 at Vnukovo International Airport in Moscow, Russia

Or, indeed, shouted ‘hypocrite!’ when it emerged that self-styled climate-change activists Prince Harry and the Duchess of Sussex had taken 21 private jets in a two-year period, however much they protested about carbon offsetting — which is how many jet-hire companies customers can ‘pay’ for their pollution by investing into environmental projects such as planting trees.

So how on earth can anyone justify such a ridiculous transport choice — whether owning or leasing? After all, what’s so great about travelling by private jet?

‘Everything!’ cry the super-rich who stump up for the fuel bills, crew costs starting at £200,000 and maintenance bills that often top £1 million a year.

As the Mail revealed yesterday, even Prince Andrew — no slouch when it comes to luxury living — was moved to rhapsody when he travelled in a £40 million private jet owned by his friend, tycoon David Rowland. 

‘I have a completely different outlook on life and its possibilities now — while trying not to let it go to my head,’ he wrote to Rowland’s son Jonathan.

To be fair, if you can afford it and push the catastrophic environmental impact to the back of your mind, it does sounds brilliant and there are endless benefits.

Time saving, for starters. With a private jet, there’s no pushing and jostling with 20,000 members of the public at Heathrow Airport. 

Private jetsetters choose their own airport — close to one of their many homes, ideally — and need to allow just 15 minutes from arrival to boarding.

Most private jets even fly faster than commercial aircraft. A Gulfstream G650 is capable of cruising at 516 knots, while the fastest commercial aircraft, the Boeing 747-8i, has a maximum cruise speed of 493 knots.

And once on board, well, it’s all a bit different to the 10.30am easyJet flight to Athens. There are no masks — no need if there’s no one else on board! No crying babies. No plastic plane food. No queues for the loo. No one bothering you for your autograph.

You can sit where you like, do what you like — Justin Bieber likes to practise his hockey skills while his wife snoozes in bed — hit the gym and, thanks to private chefs, eat and drink what and when you like. 

Even better — and aside from all those squishy beds — with lower cabin altitude and endless air purifiers, passengers in private jets suffer less jetlag than the rest of us mere mortals.

So perhaps it’s no wonder it’s no longer just the uber wealthy using private jets.

According to Christian Rooney, director of Bookajet, demand is bigger than ever for both business and, increasingly, personal use.

Since the pandemic, many wealthy families who used to travel first class are instead opting for private jets — paying between £8,000 and £10,000 to take a family of six, often plus pet (with passport) to the South of France in a cosy, Covid-free environment. 

For a couple of hours, they can even pretend to be Oprah or Taylor, or perhaps even a Russian oligarch.

How very nice for them.

Let’s just hope that, for their sakes, their paths never cross with that of Greta Thunberg.

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