Commercial air travel only really started to take off in the 1950s, but since that time has developed into a massive industry. And while hopping on a commercial airliner is a great way to travel long distances in a short period of time, nothing beats the mystique of the private jet when it comes to air travel. Most people will live their whole lives without ever stepping foot onto a private jet, but that still doesn’t dampen the allure or excitement the image conjures up. The perception of private jets is one of riches and secret hideaways. And even though the world of private jets seems destined for a select few, it’s still fun to learn about their history and imagine for just a little while.
As early as the 1930s, there were plans coming together for jet propulsion systems. Sir Francis Whittle was the first to receive a patent for his propulsion system in 1930, but Dr. Hans von Ohain actually got the first one into the air in 1939. Sir Francis was able to get his jet off the ground sometime in 1941. Before this time, all aircraft were driven by propellers, and as the jet-propelled aircraft became more popular, a battle ensued within the airline industry. Eventually, jet technology won the battle for longer routes and propeller-driven airplanes stuck to shorter routes between cities.
The commercial jet industry really took off after World War II wrapped up. More people wanted to travel farther in shorter times, and with most of the world in a time of peace, the desire to see the world was at an all-time high. When the 1960s rolled around, a small list of millionaire businessmen started experimenting with private jet travel, and a whole new concept was born.
As the desires of the rich moved from the ground and into the air, the private jet industry was born. Accustomed to having the finer things in all areas of life, some of the world’s wealthy also wanted to have them as they flew for business or personal trips. Since there was a market of paying customers, some of the jet companies complied with the requests and modified the interiors of some of the jets. Seats were removed and more space was created. The remaining seats were upholstered in leather, walls were paneled in mahogany, bars were fully stocked and the service was similar to a five-star hotel. In 1963, the Learjet hit the market and the name has since become synonymous with smaller, privately owned jets. As the decades rolled along, some of the opulence and hotel-like qualities of the earlier jets has been replaced by more business-like surroundings.
As the business world continued to open up, businesses became the primary customers of private jet companies. As a result, the private jets were designed like business offices in the sky. At the time, executives wanted satellite phones, televisions, computers and anything else that would enable them to conduct business while in the sky. In the 1990s, fractionalized ownership of private jets became more common. Under this set up, more than one company shares the cost of using and maintaining the aircraft. Fractionalized ownership doesn’t represent a huge piece of the pie, but it is expected to grow as companies streamline and look for ways to enhance their ‘green’ image.
As the 2000s came along, private business jets branched into different models for different objectives. Larger jets designed more for comfort were used for global travel, while smaller jets were used to travel domestically to help keep operating costs down. In all likelihood, the private jet industry will continue to adjust and evolve with the times. Whether it is for business or personal use, private jets have carved a niche in the airline industry and probably aren’t going anywhere. And the leaders in the industry will continue to produce aircraft to meet the demands of the people who use them.