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The types of jet aircraft sold specifically to the corporate market cover almost the entire size range of fixed-wing aircraft – from the new category of very light jets to Boeing 747s. As an ultimate example of a corporate jet it is hard to beat Air Force One, the US president’s personal sky chariot.
But Richard Thomas, director of marketing at charter and JetCard operator Air Partner, points out: “There are no standard industry classifications.” He uses as a demarcation point between light and midsize jets whether the aircraft have stand-up cabins.
This criterion divides Learjets, those enduring icons of jet-set travel, into light and midsize. The Learjet 60 XR’s stand-up cabin, which accommodates eight passengers – or nine if one straps in on the admittedly well-appointed toilet – puts it into the midsize category. Its smaller brethren such as the Learjet 40, which carries up to seven passengers, fall into the light category.
Robert Dranitzke, director of business development at NetJets, uses different criteria based more on range and price of the aircraft. So light jets are in the range $6m-$7m, midsize are $10m-13m, large-cabin are $20m-plus, and ultra-long-range, such as the Bombardier Global Express and Dassault’s new Falcon 7X, are upwards of $40m.
He puts Raytheon’s Hawker 800XP, in the midsize class, for example, but he adds: “Now it’s even more confusing as some people have a super midsize class.”
Canadian group Bombardier labels its Challenger 300, with a capacity of up to nine passengers and a range of up to 3,100 nautical miles (3,567 statute miles/5,741 km), in the super midsize class. Its Challenger 605, though, with a capacity of up to 12 passengers and a maximum range of more than 4,000 nm, is in the large class.
Others in the large class include the Embraer Legacy 600, which carries up to 16 passengers and has a maximum range of 3,250 nm.
Bombardier’s Global Express XRS, which seats as many as 19 passengers, and can fly up to 6,150 nm non-stop with eight passengers and standard safety margins, is in the long-range category, says Mr Thomas. So is the Falcon 7X, with its ability to fly eight passengers nearly 6,000 nm. As is the Gulfstream G400 although its G350 stablemate is in the large category.
Maximum range figures need to be treated with caution. They depend on the number of executives and hangers-on you cram into the aircraft, and how many crates of champagne or vital machine parts you carry in the hold. They also depend on how fast you fly – generally, the higher the speed, the shorter the range. But other factors include the weather, head or tail winds, the cruising altitude assigned by air traffic control, and of course whether the plane is fitted with long-range tanks.
But Mr Thomas uses as a benchmark for putting an aircraft into the long-range category whether it can comfortably fly from Paris to Chicago in one hop. The Falcon 7X can reach Los Angeles from Paris, while the Legacy 600’s shorter range will take it from London to New York.
The next category up is business airliners, which is where the Boeing Business Jet based on the 737, its Airbus rival the A319 Corporate Jet, and the Embraer Lineage 1000 sit. In this class aircraft might well have double beds, showers, teak wood floors and many other trappings of luxury.
Beyond that are the commercial airliners built or converted for use by heads of state – the US presidential transport, callsign Air Force One, is actually a fleet of two Boeing 747s, each of which can fly halfway around the world non-stop and carry more than 70 people. Boeing 747s are also used by the Sultan of Brunei and by the prime minister of India, among others.
But any airliner can be converted into a more comfortable business tool. Mr Thomas says: “We have a Boeing 757 with seating for only 100. They typically seat 350-400, so the seat pitch is pretty good.”
Looking further into the skies, there are a number of proposals to fit a new category – the supersonic business jet. One is from Aerion Corporation, which has mapped out a 12-passenger aircraft with a range of 4,000 nm and a maximum cruise of Mach 1.6, dropping to just under the speed of sound over land to avoid busting current speed limits. Aerion is aiming to fill by 2013 the supersonic-sized hole left by the withdrawal of Concorde three years ago.
By comparison the B747 can cruise at Mach 0.855, a proportion of the speed of sound (Mach 1, or approximately 666 kts/ 767 mph/1,234 kmph in standard atmospheric conditions). Many corporate jets weigh in at the Mach 0.8-0.9 level, with Cessna’s Citation X edging ahead of many at Mach 0.92.
At the other end of the speed range are the very light jets. Cessna’s Mustang, the first VLJ to win US certification, has a maximum cruising speed of 340 kts, a range of 1,150 nm, and shares its 4-passenger capacity with most other VLJs. But despite the National Business Aviation Association’s attempt to clarify what constitutes a VLJ by producing a guide, there is still “a lot of disagreement about whether the Mustang belongs in the class”, according to the NBAA’s Dan Hubbard.
To further confound the size categories, Mr Thomas of Air Partner says that some people will always want the luxury of a Gulfstream G500 to hop across from London to Paris, despite its 5,800 nm range. And, he adds, the average number of passengers is two to three, no matter what size of aircraft is chartered.