Who doesn't want one? Maybe a Cessna for city hopping in Europe? Or a Gulfstream to explore the world? But of course this sort of travelling is a privilege and owning (and operating!) a private jet is anything but cheap. This raises the question of whether it makes sense to actually buy a jet or just charter one whenever you want to get from A to B quickly and without waiting in lines.
If you want to skip this rather boring part about limited liability companies and quarter shares, scroll down till you see the first photo ;)
So, who owns these jets? Of course, the rich and famous. But do they actually own the aircraft? Well... yes, sometimes. There are many different kinds of ownership: Outright ownership, SPVs, Trusts, Operators, Fractional Ownership, and so on. Let's take a closer look at some of them:
Outright ownership is extremely rare, mainly because of its risks. With this form of ownership, a company or an individual buys a jet and owns/operates it in its own name. Now the risky part is the missing separation between the jet and other assets of that company or individual. If an accident occurs, it's usually the operator's fault, not the owner's, so you want to separate these two (although, under normal circumstances, insurance will cover the damages).
SPVs (Special Purpose Vehicles) are a common form of ownership. They are usually structured as LLCs (Limited Liability Companies), corporations or trusts. Their only activities are financing, owning and operating the aircraft. The special purpose of these vehicles is ring-fencing any liability attached to the aircraft in order to protect the other assets (in case of an accident for example). They also offer a certain level of discretion as the aircraft is registered to the SPV and therefore can't be directly linked to the beneficial owner (usually).
SPVs are often created and registered in countries or states with low taxes, such as the Cayman Islands, Bermuda or the Isle of Man. Delaware is a popular tax haven within the US and over 60% of Fortune 500 companies have SPVs in this state (one building, the CT Corporation Center, is home to over 6'500 companies). But the Cayman Islands for example are not just attractive for aircraft owners because of low taxes. There are many more advantages: fast establishment (the certificate of incorporation may be obtained overnight), no minimum capital requirements, no locally resident director is needed, etc.
The names of these SPVs can be anything from logical but unimaginative to confusing and sometimes even funny. A few examples:
Special forms of SPVs are flight departments. These company-based "airlines" (not airlines in a legal sense, they don't have an air operators certificate) are used to ferry the personnel of a company. What differentiates them is the size. While normal SPVs are used to operate one, maybe two jets, flight departments usually take care of a whole fleet. Examples are ExxonMobil, Shell or Nike.
Operators manage private jets on behalf of their beneficial owners. They handle all aspects of operation, like maintenance or crew disposition (and crew training). Operators can also act as CAMOs (Continuing Airworthiness Management Organizations), which means that they are responsible for all mandatory checks, paperwork, etc. to keep their (and other) jets airworthy.
An example: Monsieur Trèsriche wants to buy a Falcon 7X. He contacts Example Aviation (fictional operator). He then buys the aircraft and leases it to the operator through an SPV. Now, although it's Mr. Trèsriche's jet, Example Aviation "owns" and operates it. This is advantageous for three reasons:
Let's say Mr. Trèsriche uses his jet on 60 days per year. Does it make sense to park it in a cramped hangar the other 300 days? No. That's why these companies almost always offer two kinds of flights: Privately operated flights (for the owner of the jet) and commercially operated flights (charter). In order to sell charter flights, they have to obtain an AOC (Air Operator's Certificate) just like any other airline. So, if Mr. Trèsriche agrees, Example Aviation will make his Falcon available for charter when he doesn't need it. This reduces his costs.
The core business of these companies is management and charter, but they usually offer other services like brokerage, sales and acquisitions, FBO (fixed-base operator), CAMOs, handling and maintenance. Among the largest charter companies are: Global Jet, TAG Aviation, Jet Aviation, Execujet and Comlux.
Fractional ownership is becoming more and more popular. The idea is simple. You buy a part of a private jet, most commonly a quarter (quarter share). Thereby, you split the operating, maintenance and flight crew costs with three other quarter share owners. This entitles the owners to a certain number of hours of flight time on that aircraft, or similar aircraft in the fleet. Largest fractional ownership airlines: NetJets, Flexjet, Jetfly.
Netjets, the worldwide leader in private aviation, operates a fleet of nearly 700 aircraft.
But enough of dry theory! Let's see who owns which private jet.
The following are jets I've seen over the years. All the information can be found on the internet (the interpretations of some registrations are speculation).
N737ER. This BBJ built in 2000 is owned by Wilmington Trust on behalf of Boetti Air Inc. The beneficial owner is Mohammed Abdul Latif Jameel of Abdul Latif Jameel Motors, the parent company of Toyota Saudi Arabia. As Mr. Jameel is a non-US citizen, but his jet is registered there, he has to use a local trust.
Behind the windowless part of the fuselage, there's a bar and some kind of comfort zone.
N313RG / N315RG. These two Gulftreams are owned by NYC-based holding company Renco Group. They own, among others, AM General, the manufacturer of the Hummer and the Humvee. They are incorporated in Delaware: The G-V, N313RG, is owned and operated by Renair 313 LLC, the G550, N315RG, by Renair 315 LLC, and the company's Helicopter, N314RG, by Rencopter 314 LLC.
N155AN. Obviously, this G550 belongs to Nissan (or belonged - it was replaced by a G650 last year). Same problem here as with the BBJ earlier: The company - Nissan - is based in Japan, but the jet is in the N-register, so they had to use a US trust as well, Wells Fargo in this case.
I-PFLY. This Global 6000 is owned and operated by Albinati Aeronautics in Switzerland. The beneficial owner however is Pirelli S.p.A, one of the largest tyre manufacturers. It's available for charter.
N803TM. One of two G550s used by Toyota Motors USA. They are owned by TAI Leasing Inc., a SPV with two employees and an annual revenue of $86'000.
M-IABU. You know you have too much money when your private jet is an A340. It belongs to Uzbek-born Russian business magnate Alisher Usmanov, one of the wealthiest people in the world. He owns 29.25% of Arsenal F.C.
This beautiful machine was built in 2008 and is the last manufactured A340-300. The plane carries the name 'Bourkhan' (Usmanov's father) and the registration can be interpreted as 'I, Alisher Bourkhanovich Usmaov'. On paper, it is owned and operated by Global Jet Luxembourg on behalf of Klaret Aviation.
Usmanov also owns two helicopters: an Airbus H175 (first delivered VIP version), registered G-DLBR, based on his 156m super-yacht Dilbar (the largest yacht by gross tonnage), and a Eurocopter EC155, registered 3A-MBD, based on his second yacht Ona (110m). Quite a life...
VP-BRT. By far my favourite livery on any aircraft. Roustam Tariko, founder of Russian Standard Vodka and Bank, is the owner of this beautiful BBJ. Its registered owner is E&A Aviation Ltd. (after his twin daughters Eva & Anna) and managed by Longtail Aviation based on the Bermudas. VP-B = Bermuda / RT = Roustam Tariko
N550PM / N650GL. Only one of these two Gulfstreams belongs in this category, but I wanted to show them side-by-side because of the livery. The G650 (right) belongs to Leonid Mikhelson, Russia's wealthiest person. Seems like he doesn't want his jet to be recognized: Neither the registration nor any other detail of this aircraft could be linked to him. It's owned by the Bank of Utah (trust for non-US citizens with N-registered business jets) and operated by Hinson Corporate Flight Services. Hinson also operates that G550, which might explain the exact same livery. N550PM is owned by Philip Morris International, a global cigarette and tobacco company, best known for Marlboro. N = USA / 550 = aircraft type / PM = Philip Morris
M-YBBJ. Another beautiful BBJ - with a fitting registration. It is owned by Andrey Melnichenko, a Russian industrialist and billionaire, and managed by Global Jet Austria. An ACJ319 (VP-CAD) with the same livery was delivered recently but it seems like there's no relation between these two jets.
If you're into yachts, you might recognize that 'A' next to the door. Melnichenko owns two yachts named 'A' (a motor yacht and a sailing yacht). MY A is for sale if you're interested. It looks like a submarine, is 119m long and comes with bomb-proof glass and a rotating bed. Its replacement is SY A, the largest sailing yacht in the world with a length of 144m. You should definitely check them out...
M-YVVF. This Global 6000, owned by Lightstar Aviation Ltd., belongs to Viktor Vekselberg, a Ukrainian-born Russian oil baron. VVF = Viktor Vekselberg Felixovich
P4-MES / LX-MES. If we're talking about Russian oligarchs with nice private jets, we should not forget Roman Abramovich, the owner of Chelsea F.C. The interior of his 767, nicknamed 'Bandit', includes a 30-seat dining room, a boardroom, master bedrooms, luxury bathrooms with showers, and a spacious living room. And (according to WorldLifeStyle) it has the same air missile avoidance system as Air Force One.
The Falcon 7X 'Mini Bandit' was the replacement for his Falcon 900 OE-IDX, but is now re-registered M-ZJBT. It's unlikely that he's still the owner.
Both jets (767 and F7X) are/were managed by Global Jet Luxembourg. I couldn't find any information on why he chose the registration ending 'MES'. Maybe these letters stand for his three major investments: Millhouse Capital, Evraz and Sibneft (now Gazprom).
And, just like many other billionaires, Abramovich owns a super-yacht. His 162.5m Eclipse was the largest yacht from 2009-2013. The yacht is also equipped with a missile avoidance system and comes with two helicopters: a Eurocopter AS 365N3 Dauphin (M-LVIA) and a Eurocopter EC 145 (M-LUNA).
Oil / Chemical Industry
TC-OIL. Another fitting registration. This Falcon 7X is owned by SOCAR (State Oil Company of Azerbaijan Republic) but operated by Turkish Palmali Air (which explains the Turkish registration). Palmali Air is a subsidiary of the Palmali Group of Companies (Shipping) and operates a fleet of six jets (3x Falcon 7X, 1x F2000, 2x CL300), including this one.
Palmali and SOCAR have close business ties, which might be the reason for the management of TC-OIL through Palmali Air.
N100A. This G650ER is the largest member in the fleet of ExxonMobil. The current fleet consists of this G650ER, two G550s (N200A & N300A), three G280s (N283EM, N284EM, N285EM) and one CL300 (N307EM). The department responsible for these jets is 'ExxonMobil Aviation Services' with over 70 employees based at three airports in the US (Dallas, Houston and Dulles).
VQ-BSN / VQ-BSP. Shell Bermuda Overseas Ltd., a subsidairy of Royal Dutch Shell, is the owner of these two Falcons. The Shell fleet includes two more of these jets (VQ-BSF and VQ-BSO). All four Falcons are based in Rotterdam and operated by Shell Aircraft International.
Fashion / Sports
I-XPRA. Sharp looking G450, owned by Prada and operated by ALBA Servizi Aerotransporti S.p.A. The interior is just as nice as the matte black exterior, with a wooden floor and extra large petroleum green seats. Prada also owns a matte black luxury helicopter (Agusta Westland AW139 / I-DPRA).
N1KE. Probably the coolest registration out there. This used to be Nike co-founder Phil Knight's personal jet until it was replaced by a G650 in 2013, which is currently wearing the registration N1KE. The G-V above is still with Nike as N6458. Here's an overview of the current Nike fleet:
The five jets are based at Hillsboro Airport (Oregon) and can be sheltered in two hangars known as Air Hangar 1 (Nike's hangar for three jets) and Ochoco Private Hangar (Phil Knight's hangar for two jets).
N650GU. This G650 is owned by MPM Financial LLC for Maurice and Paul Marciano, two of the four co-founders of Guess. The aircraft is managed by Clay Lacy Aviation and leased to Guess if needed.
M-CELT. This Dublin-based Falcon 7X is owned by Cravant Ltd. and operated by Execujet on behalf of Irish businessman and financier Dermot Desmond. He is the largest individual shareholder within Celtic F.C., which explains the registration and the clover on the tail.
I-FFRR. Only the brave. The slogan might give it away. This Falcon belongs to the Italian clothing company Diesel and is owned and operated by Eurofly Service S.p.A. The registration refers to the company's founder and president Renzo Rossi.
M-IKEL. Formula 1 legend Michael Schumacher's former private jet, owned by Second Aircraft Co. Ltd. After his skiing accident in 2013 which resulted in a serious brain injury, it was almost certain that he'd never use the jet again. So it was sold in 2015 and now carries the tail number N201PG.
N188ES. Owned by Jet Force V LLC, this G-V was the personal ride of US businessman Ed Snider before he passed away last year. Snider was chairman of Comcast Spectator, which owns the Philadelphia Flyers (logo on the tail) and their home arena, the Wells Fargo Center. The tail number might refer to his induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1988, with his initials at the end.
HB-JFP. This beautiful G650 is operated by Jet Aviation and owned by Swiss watch manufacturer Patek Philippe S.A. Genève. The livery looks a lot like the one on the Swissair Jumbos in the 80s.
Finance / Banks
N113CS. This 2014-built G650ER is owned by another very creatively named corporation, 113CS LLC, and is used by the Blackstone Group, the largest alternative investment company in the world. They own (among many others) 100% of Jack Wolfskin, 20% of Versace or 21% of the Hilton imperium. Now what's interesting is the dry lease agreement between 113CS and Blackstone, which can be found here.
It's no secret that these two companies belong together (Blackstone's CEO is also the president of 113CS LLC.). The reason for this leasing agreement is the following: Blackstone can lease the jet under favourable conditions (as they are the ones setting these conditions) and can therefore minimize their taxable income, while the lessor (113CS) enjoys lower taxes in its state of registry, Delaware.
The G650 is already the fourth jet flying with this registration. Its predecessors are a G-IV (until 2010), a Global Express (until 2011) and a G550 (until 2015).
N636MF / N838MF. These two Gulfstreams (G550 and G650) are the private jets of Ronald Perelman, founder and CEO of MacAndrews & Forbes, a US conglomerate. The G550 is owned by Tod II Corp. and is apparently used as the baggage plane when he travels with both jets. The owner of the G650 is Ropa II Corp. or Rop Aviation (Rop for Ronald Owen Perelman). The ending of both registrations refer to his company.
P4-NGK. PPF Group (Itera Holdings Ltd.) is the owner of this beautiful BBJ. The jet is operated by ABS Jets for Petr Kellner, founder and CEO of PPF. Kellner is the wealthiest person in the Czech Republic with a net worth of around $11 billion. His newest toy is a 2016-G650ER (P4-GVI) with the exact same livery.
Kellner's helicopter, a Eurocopter EC155 (G-CEOJ), wears a very similar paint and is by far the best looking heli I've seen so far. The owner and operator is Starspeed Ltd.
N607CH. One of two rather boring looking G550s owned by JP Morgan Chase, the largest US bank. Their two G450s were replaced by two G650ERs (N651CH and N652CH) in 2014.
N273JC. Via Feliz II, LLC. from California is the owner of this Falcon 7X. It's the private jet of John Chambers, former CEO and current chairman of Cisco, the largest networking comapany in the world. Via Feliz was the address of his $15 million house before he sold it in 2012.
N10XG / N904G. Two of numerous planes used by the Google executives and owned by the Bank uf Utah (founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin use a VIP 767-200 with the tail number N2767). N10XG refers to Google's 10X thinking.
N6D. This Global Express was the personal ride of Dell founder Michael Dell until it was replaced by a G650 in 2015. Dell was supposed to be the first private owner of a 787BBJ. The jet was painted in the same livery as his G650 and wore the tail number N28MS (28 = day of wedding / MS = Michael and Susan), but was re-registered 2-DEER in 2016. It is now operated by Deer Jet on behalf of Hongkong Jet.
N194WM / N887WM. Unlike most super-rich people, Bill Gates doesn't own a large private jet. So these two Globals, owned by Challenger Administration LLC, are a quite modest choice considering the fact that he's the richest person alive (in 2017). WM stands for Gates' parents William and Mary. As the tail numbers are so different, they have to have a meaning. 194 is most likely standing for Bill and Melinda's wedding in January 1994 and 887 might refer to their first encounter/date in August 1987 (speculation).
N543H / N628BD. Two of seven (I'm not quite sure) Gulfstreams owned by Hewlett-Packard. 'H' obviously for Hewlett-Packard and 'BD' might be for their founders William "Bill" Hewlett and Dave Packard. The other jets are:
N674RW / N502PC. N674RW was one of several Coca Cola Gulfstreams, until 2014. It is now flying around in a silver-grey paint and with the tail number N1892. The current Coca-Cola corporation fleet consists of two G550s (N486RW & N586RW) and two G280s (N286RW & N386RW).
The G-IV-SP on the right is owned by Noble Leasing LLC on behalf of PepsiCo., the owner of Pepsi, Gatorade, Lay's, Mountain Dew and many more. They also use a second G-IV-SP, N500PC.
HS-CDY. This Thailand-registered Citation X is owned by Siam Winery Trading Co. Ltd. for Chalerm Yoovidya, director of Siam Winery and heir to the Red Bull imperium. The aircraft spent several years in Zurich (presumably for maintenance). CDY = Chalerm & Daranee Yoovidya
Media / Telecommunications
N138GL. It's not the Millennium Falcon but still very nice. Star Wars creator George Lucas (SWR Services II LLC) owns this beautiful G-V. Obviously 'GL' are his initials and '138' might stand for his very first film as director, THX1138.
N89NC / N56L. Both jets are owned by Wells Fargo but the beneficial owner is Rupert Murdoch, an Australian-born US media mogul. He's chairman and CEO of News Corporation & 21st Century Fox and since 2016 acting CEO of Fox News. His newest ride is a G650 (N898NC) so it's likely that these jets are now used by his children.
Royals (non-ruling royals & "low profile" government jets)
VP-BAT / VQ-BSK. Old and new. Let's start with the 747SP. It was delivered to Pan Am in 1979 and changed its ownership to United Airlines in 1986. In 1995, it was bought by the Emir of Qatar, Khalifa al Thani, as VR-BAT (re-registered VP-BAT two years later). The plane was officially never a part of the Qatar Amiri fleet (all the Amiri planes use A7-registrations while this one had a Bermuda-regi. Also, it was owned by Worldwide Aircraft Holding) and so Al Thani kept it for his personal use when he stepped down in 2013. After its replacement, a 747-8BBJ, was delivered, he let his daughter use the 747SP (she studied in England so the plane was based in Bournemouth). VP-BAT was listed for sale in 2016 but now seems to have found a new owner. Interior photos can be found here.
VQ-BSK, the first private 747-8BBJ, is the new ride of Al Thani. Just like the 747SP, it's owned by Worldwide Aircraft Holding and based in Bournemouth.
VQ-BDD / VQ-BMZ. Not often you see government aircraft without titles or coat of arms / flags (and even without the country's aircraft registration prefix). The Jordan government, which uses these two jets, decided to keep a low profile (concerning their state transport) when the Arab Spring broke out. A VIP A340-600 was due to be delivered but never arrived in Jordan and they also got rid of their A340-200. Now, these two aircraft (plus another G650 / VQ-BNZ) are used to transport the royal family and government officials. They are registered in Bermuda and owned by SPV corporations (ACJ318: Sandstone Ltd. / G650s: Seastone Ltd. and Oceanstone Ltd.).
HZ-WBT7. Go big or go home! Another 747BBJ owned by another Arab Royal, HRH Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, founder, CEO and 95%-owner of the Kingdom Holding Company. The plane is named after his children, Khaleed & Reem. The interior can be described with one word: Gold. Everything is golden in there. With everything I mean (among others) two master bedrooms, a dining table for 14 people and a throne-like seat in the middle of the living room. Reportedly, 11 flight attendants work on that aircraft.
Bin Talal is the guy who bought an A380 and wanted to convert it into the first VVIP version of that type. But the plane never left Toulouse and was sold again...
N47EG. This Falcon 900 is owned by Bloomberg Services LLC / Bank of America and used by Michael Bloomberg, former mayor of New York City and founder / CEO / owner of Bloomberg L.P. He's wealth is estimated at $47.5 million (2017), making him the 10th richest person alive. The jets registration refers to his children Emma and Georgina.
OY-EKC. Pretty obvious who owns this Falcon 7X: the famous Danish toy manufacturer Lego. The registered owner is Kirkibi A/S, a holding company and vehicle used for the invstments of Lego CEO Kirk Kristiansen and his family. Operator of this aircraft (and the other Lego jets: Falcon 2000 OY-CKK and Citation XLS OY-GKC) is Air Alsie.
9M-CJG. This Global Express was formerly owned by Caterham Jet and used by AirAsia's CEO Tony Fernandes and chairman Kamarudin Meranun. Fernandes and Meranun are also directors and shareholders (18.56% each) of Caterham.
In 2016, the jet was bought by AirAsia for $10 million but Caterham is still responsible for maintenance and charter.