Not all jets are created equal: To get the most out of yours, you need to know what you’re using it for
There are many questions to ask when buying a jet, the most important of which is, “What is your mission?”, says an expert.
While jets are certainly an expensive acquisition, so too are other assets like land, buildings, and even companies. But for each of these purchases, “What’s your mission?” is not often asked so directly. It’s a question that catches prospective jet buyers by surprise when asked by a broker.
So we talked to Ng Yeow Meng, founder and managing director of WingsOverAsia (WOA), at the company’s headquarters at Seletar Airport, Singapore, to get his take on the process of choosing the right plane for the right mission.
WOA is like a Singapore country club oriented around aviation, with everything from restaurants to hangars to member events like group excursions to different places. The organisation also helps members with the sale or purchase of an aircraft; functions as an FBO with ground handing services; and serves as a thriving club for aviation enthusiasts in Singapore.
When someone approaches you to seek help with the purchase of a jet, what are the questions you typically ask and why?
The first question I ask is about their mission as in, “Will this primarily be for personal or business use?”
If someone answers “for fun” then I know that the prospective buyer will use the jet frequently with family and friends. I often see these types of jet buyers seeking transportation to islands for sports recreation such as golf and diving. Others seek transportation to big cities for shopping.
What do you ask if the prospective buyer indicates that the acquisition would be for business use?
When someone indicates that the jet would be used primarily for business then I follow up, respectfully, with “Where do you plan to go?” because they will particularly value the ability to reach their destination non-stop.
It sounds like you are referencing the expression, “Jets are time machines” for the time that they can save.
Exactly. Users of jets for leisure are not as time sensitive. For them, it’s more about getting to places that they want to enjoy. In fact, some people who think that they would benefit from a private jet are surprised to learn that a jet is not always the best or even the most capable mode of transportation.
There are some places that jets cannot get into such as Redang, Tioman Island, Pangkor Laut, etc. A lot of people want to visit Sabang for diving or go to Thailand for golf. Oftentimes, these people would benefit most from a turboprop. A turboprop can be as fast as a jet nowadays. Good options include a TBM 700, Piper M600 or Pilatus PC-12 as they are fast enough and yet they can land at more remote island destinations.
Of course, there is another set of people who want to use a jet for personal and business use. Ironically, these people would often be best off with two aircraft. One aircraft would allow them to travel long distances non-stop for business while the other would allow them to get into nearby destinations with a short runway.
The very light jet or VLJ segment of the market is also the most affordable. Do you see this segment taking off in Southeast Asia with recent entrants like the Honda Jet?
Many people are surprised to learn that VLJs are not the right jet for someone based in Singapore who wants to travel around the region. Take Bali, for instance.You probably have about 800 nm of planning range plus reserve – a light jet might not cut it. However, a VLJ would be fine if one’s primary destinations are Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, or Jakarta.
Do first-time prospective jet buyers already have a clear understanding of the costs involved?
Asia-based prospective jet owners have some idea of the real numbers (of jet ownership) when you consider the cost of pilots, pilot training, insurance, maintenance, hangar, and flight support logistics. There is also the down time for maintenance, which requires the sourcing of a replacement jet. Also, you have to have a big crew if you want to be able to travel on a moment’s notice since crew have their own lives and schedules.
I would also posit that Asia still has a bit of red tape compared to Australia, the EU, or the US where it is easy to cross geographic borders. In Asia, you need the assistance of a team that can help get you the permits. There is a cost associated with that, of course.
Earlier, you mentioned that business people put a premium on nonstop flights. How does that affect their choice of jet?
I often hear, “I want to be able to go to Hong Kong nonstop.” They soon learn that the VLJs that they hear advertised for as little as $2 million to $5 million won’t be sufficient. The prospective buyers will need to step up one level for a jet that costs in the $5 million to $10 million range such as an Embraer Phenom 300.
I then ask, “Does that incremental cost justify your need to go to Hong Kong once or twice per year, nonstop?”
For prospective business jet buyers, I also need to learn what the frequency of travel will be along with the destination. For instance, will the jet be used to fly to the same place every week such as visiting a company’s branch offices?
In some cases, I recommend against buying a jet. Instead, I recommend the use of charter services, which can precisely match the right jet for each particular mission or flight.
Do you often meet prospective jet buyers who plan to pilot their jets themselves?
Ah, yes! There are two categories of owners. One I call the “owner-pilot successful entrepreneur.” The other is the “guy who wants to sit in the back.”
The guy who wants to sit in the back typically wants the jet primarily for business and his time is valuable so a jet that can fly nonstop is key.
The guy who wants to fly his own jet considers the journey to be just as important as the destination – actually more important in some cases. For these guys, a VLJ is not as much of an issue because they don’t mind stopping en route for fuel.
Which VLJs are the most popular these days?
You have the Cirrus with a single jet engine, then there are the Eclipse, Mustang and the Honda Jet. Each is nice in its own way in terms of economics, comfort, innovations of systems, etc. For instance, the Cirrus Vision Jet is the only jet with a built-in parachute. The Honda Jet is getting a lot of “buzz.” The Honda Jet is unique for its class because it has a “real” bathroom and now has an extended range. A lot of prospective VLJ buyers are surprised to learn that the smallest jets have no bathroom or if they do, they have a, how should I say it? A “potty.”
Ng Yeow Meng, posing beside his plane
ABOVE AND BELOW: A view of the WOA headquarters near Seletar Airport; night-time view of the buildingRIGHT: WOA’s hangar with its competent crew