Fractional jet ownership is sometimes referred to as jet “time sharing”. Note that fractional ownership or “tenancy in common” is an old legal concept, and is not limited to jet aircraft.
Fractional jet ownership is similar to resort condominium time sharing only in the concept of tenancy in common – the co-ownership of an asset, and joint right to its use. Otherwise, the concepts differ as follows. A company or individual buys, or leases, a fractional interest in one aircraft just as they might acquire a partial interest in one condo unit. However, instead of being restricted to the use of that condo for a fixed period of time, they can use their own or aircraft or another at any time. In most programs, if your aircraft is not available when you want it, you can have access to a larger pool of identical or similar aircraft fractionally owned or leased by others. This is called “interchange” or “dry lease exchange”. When your aircraft isn’t available, you fly on someone else’s, and vice versa. Over the term of your fractional contracts (typically, 5 years), you may never actually fly on the aircraft you own.
Although individual deals vary, and there is room for negotiation, the Federal Aviation Regulations (“FARs”) regulate fractional ownership operations and agreements, and mandate some similarity in the terms and conditions offered by most providers. For example, FAR 91k provides for a “minimum fractional ownership interest” of 1/16th of a multiengine turbojet powered or large aircraft, or 1/32d of a helicopter. However, jets can be fractionally leased for as little as 25 hours per year, or a 1/32d interest. FAR 91k provides that all shares smaller than the minimums must be operated under the “common carrier” rules of FAR Part 135. Each deal is separately negotiated and some have buyback or cancellation provisions.The fractional interest buyer or lessor gets a "turnkey" operation of aircraft, crews, and scheduling on demand, with recurrent and unscheduled maintenance provided as necessary. For most fractional owners, this is preferable to the organizational, capital and opportunity costs of owning and maintaining a whole aircraft. However, the complexity of fractional operations imposes its own costs.
For example, it requires great discipline and uniformity in operations to run an organization which is in many ways a private airline; this militates towards uniformity in program documentation. Fractional sales agents and program managers sometimes have relatively little leeway to tailor their product to the needs or desires of a specific customer. Fleet management issues sometimes trump the personal touch.
Nevertheless, individual deals do vary, and there is room for negotiation. Although fractional ownership is in some ways a retail product, it is very high-end; fractional providers will go some ways to make sure their product fits a customer’s “mission profile.”
IS FRACTIONAL OWNERSHIP RIGHT FOR YOU?
Private air travel comes in many forms, such as charter, “block” charter (the purchase and sale of travel time in blocks), jet cards, fractional ownership, and joint or whole aircraft ownership, with or without charter management of the asset. The feasibility and benefit/cost ratio of each option depends on many factors, including the number of people who will use the aircraft, the value of their time to the owner, and the money to be saved in airline tickets, hotels, etc.
Industry professionals use the term “mission profile” to define the customer’s aviation needs and goals. Mission profile usually consists of the salient passenger and cargo loads and destinations commonly visited by the customer. It can be broken down even more simply into hours of flight time needed per month or year. In general, the following rough guidelines are commonly used to triage the feasibility and benefit/cost of private aviation options:
- 0 to 25 hours per year – charter, block charter, or jet card.
- 25 to 50 hours per year - charter, block charter, jet card, or fractional ownership.
- 50 to 200 hours per year - fractional ownership.
- 200 hours per year or more -- fractional ownership of multiple shares (small, medium, and/or large), to fit multiple “mission profiles”, if applicable; joint or whole ownership, with or without Part 135 charter management by a common carrier to generate income from the asset when not otherwise in use.
All the options above have their own benefits and costs, including tax considerations, which should be reviewed before buying or leasing time on a jet.