This company wants to make small-group private jet travel more efficient — and make flights potentially free

Mar 10, 2022

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One of the biggest inefficiencies of private jet travel is wasted seats. Studies have shown that over 40% of private flights are empty legs, and for those that aren’t, the average occupancy is four passengers or fewer. Mind you, the majority of these planes can seat at least twice as many people.

There are a number of companies trying to solve this issue by offering shared charters and making it easier to sell empty seats. However, one group believes there’s a simpler solution.

Enter Volato, the charter company focused on making four-or-fewer passenger missions more efficient by flying smaller planes. This approach leads to fewer empty seats, less fuel consumption and, ultimately, lower costs, the company says.

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While short- and medium-haul small-group flights are often operated by light jets like the six-seat Phenom 300, Volato operates a fleet exclusively of smaller, more efficient HondaJet Elite S’s.  This plane is perhaps best known for its unique over-the-wing engines, which help improve aerodynamics and allow the planes to fly faster, higher and further.

(Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)

Despite its small size, the plane is quite spacious inside, with the cabin measuring about 12 feet long by 5 feet wide by 4 feet, 9 1/2 inches tall. In its standard configuration, the plane can accommodate four passengers. That said, Volato also has some planes configured with a fifth seat upfront in lieu of a full galley.

Related: Honda wants to build the first transcontinental light jet — and it’ll only need 1 pilot

Passengers face each other, with two facing forward and two facing toward the back. However, all seats can recline and swivel and there’s plenty of room between the seats so knees shouldn’t touch.

(Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)

The plane is equipped with a range of premium amenities, including Bongiovi Aviation’s speakerless audio system, fast satellite-based Wi-Fi, USB ports and a fully enclosed lavatory. Newer planes even offer dimmable windows, similar to those you’ll find on the 787 Dreamliner. The cabin is also much quieter than comparable jets due to the fact that the engines are mounted over the wings.

Related: The golden age of travel isn’t over — it’s evolving

The plane has a range of nearly 1,500 nautical miles, making it possible to fly nonstop from New York to more than half of the Lower 48. Although HondaJets are capable of flying with one pilot, all Volato flights have two by default. That said, passengers can request only one pilot if they want to sit upfront.

(Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)

The biggest benefit of flying this jet is the savings. It retails for about $5.3 million, which might seem steep, but it’s a steal compared to the $21 million Embraer Praetor 600 or the $30 million Cessna Citation Longitude. And that’s before factoring in the HondaJet’s savings on fuel costs.

Volato says it’s able to pass these savings on to customers. The company offers two ways to fly: either through fractional ownership or by the hour.

Depending on how much you’re willing to commit, the jet-share program can be enticing. You can buy anywhere from a 1/16th share for $375,000, equivalent to 50 flying hours per year, to a 100% share, equivalent to 800 hours. You’ll then be able to fly for $3,200 per hour plus fuel at cost, which is estimated to be around $600 per flight hour.

But here’s where things get interesting. You can also earn up to $1,250 profit per entitled hour when the plane is being chartered, even on the hours you fly, dropping your hourly rate to as low as $1,950 plus fuel. Depending on your actual usage, you may even earn a return from your share, and effectively fly private for free. According to Volato, if you acquire a 100% jet-share, but only fly 50 hours yourself, you can receive up to $450,000 in net profit per year. And that’s before factoring in tax benefits.

Related: The cheapest ways to get the private jet experience

(Photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy)

Meanwhile, if you choose to charter outside of the program, you’ll pay $4,000 per hour. You’ll also be responsible for fuel costs, but won’t have to pay repositioning fees (when an aircraft returns to its home base) for flights within two hours of its current bases. Volato currently has bases in cities like Atlanta, Baltimore, Fort Lauderdale and St. Augustine, Florida, with plans to expand out west in the coming months.

Although a lot cheaper than some larger jets, it’s important to point out that these aren’t the lowest rates around for this plane type. For instance, the fractional ownership company Jet It lets you fly HondaJets for just $1,600 per hour.

However, Volato’s co-founder and CEO Matt Liotta told us that the goal isn’t to be a value play. Volato wants to offer a more premium experience. Some ways it does this are through its personal concierge service and curated onboard snack and drink selection. Besides the usual sodas and chips, Volato stocks flights with higher-end options like La Colombe cold brew, ready-to-serve BTL SVC cocktails, superfood bars, wagyu beef jerky strips and more. Most of Volato’s planes also have full galleys with coffee makers, which aren’t standard for very light jets.

Volato currently has six HondaJet Elite S’s in its fleet, with 16 additional to be delivered. As of now, the company has no plans to expand to other aircraft types. For trips that require more than four passengers, customers can book multiple planes — which can actually be cheaper than a single, larger plane — or they’ll need to go to another company if they want a larger aircraft.

For those who like to fly private on a budget, Volato doesn’t currently offer empty-leg specials, but hopes to introduce them soon. Given the small size of its planes, it currently doesn’t have plans to introduce any shared flights.

Featured photo by Benji Stawski/The Points Guy.

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