“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” - Often attributed to Plato but likely from Ian McLaren (pseudonym of Reverend John Watson)

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Just how bad are business jets?

As regular readers will know, I'm a pilot and the owner of a Piper Saratoga. That's a single engine propeller driven aircraft. In it, I get on the order of 11 statute miles per gallon and cruise at around 190 miles per hour. With no headwind, I can fly from my base in Long Beach, CA to Colorado Springs to see my brother and his family without a fuel stop, though I can rarely fly back non-stop. Like most pilots ("most" meaning, I would guess, greater than 95%) I wouldn't mind flying something faster, quieter, and with greater range. I'll also add more comfort (pressurization) and more all-weather capability (fully deiced) to the wish list.

In the current economic situation, traveling in business jets has become a very guilty pleasure indeed - witness the opprobrium heaped upon the GM and Chrysler executives who took their corporate jets to Washington to plead for bail out money. Suitably chastened by the Congressional panelists - who never waste taxpayer money - they drove hybrids to their next Congressional begging session. In the end, however, both companies entered and exited bankruptcy. I'm sure the executive jets were the proximate cause. So, are private jets really so bad?

Yesterday I had a chance to catch a ride in an Embraer Phenom 100, a so-called "very light jet." It's certificated for single pilot operation, and operates up to 41,000 feet, above almost all weather, at about 415 miles per hour. At that speed its two Pratt & Whitney PW617F-E turbofans burn about 704 pounds of Jet A fuel per hour, delivering a fuel economy of about 4 miles per gallon. Its full fuel range (with full fuel you'll be able to carry about 580 pounds of passengers and baggage not including the pilot) is about 1,400 statute miles in no-wind conditions.

The Phenom 100 cabin is quite comfortable; a passenger could sleep, work, converse comfortably with associates, or listen to Sirius satellite radio. It treats its passengers as those who get around in business jets expect to be treated (or, not being such a person, so it seems to me). Admittedly, it lacks the quiche heater and bidet one finds in higher end jets, but the interior was designed by BMW Group DesignworksUSA so you won't need to apologize for it. It has six seats - two in the cockpit and four in the cabin, plus a potty that can be used as a seventh seat. Assuming that the pilot is a professional, the five remaining seats mean that the aircraft can deliver something like 20 passenger seat miles per gallon. If I'm the pilot and I have five passengers, the figure is 24 seat miles per gallon. You'll have to queue up to purchase yours for about $3.6M.

Now, were my blog to catch on, the ad revenues to flow like water, and my bank account to swell like a balloon, I've always felt that the best, fastest, longest range airplane FLYABLE BY A SINGLE PILOT would be my ultimate ride. It's a short list of candidates and the Phenom 100 would be on it. Just how bad is this in terms of fuel consumption? In 2008, it's estimated that U.S. air carriers delivered about 58 seat miles per gallon. The Boeing 737-800 gets about 80 seat miles per gallon. If I look at my Land Rover LR3 as a five seat vehicle, I'm currently getting about 105 seat miles per gallon, though for 95% of the miles, I'm getting 21 passenger miles per gallon. Were I to use the Phenom 100 as I use my Saratoga it also would have a single occupant for the vast majority of its flight hours, thus providing four passenger miles per gallon.

I have to concede that this is a depressing post. It's difficult for me to enumerate these facts and then desire to purchase a jet. By no means am I financially able to contemplate such a purchase at this point anyway, but it had been nice to dream.


maastrichtian said...

I love this blog.

King of the Road said...

I appreciate it - "tell a friend!"

Private Jets said...

But I love Private Jets travel.