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Choosing an Aircraft

Unless you saw the entire charter fleet together, you would never imagine the range of choices you have. The number of passengers traveling with you, the nature and amount of baggage or cargo you'll be carrying, the ultimate destination of your choosing, your aircraft preferences, and budget parameters will dictate what kinds of charter aircraft are appropriate for your trip. Before you charter a trip, you can expect an operator or broker to explore your travel needs with you, and what we'd like to offer the reader is an idea of some of the information that an informed purchaser of charter will have considered or will need to consider with an operator or broker.

The first question asked will be how many passengers will be making the trip and where will you be going? The number of people in your party will tell the operator what size aircraft you'll need and your location will indicate the required range. Some high-altitude airports like Telluride, Colorado, have limited accessibility, or accessibility that changes seasonally depending on the aircraft.

Speed is another factor. Cruising speeds vary widely, but a rough speed estimate for propeller planes is about 200 mph/322kmh, while jets fly at something closer to 500 mph/805kmh. When estimating flight-times, add 10-15% for the time necessary to achieve cruising speed and altitude. With these figures in mind, it's fairly easy to conclude that an 800mile/1,287km flight from Dallas to Chicago would take four and a half hours in a propeller-driven aircraft, but less than two in a jet. Think about your destination and how fast you need to get there.

Aircraft performance, size and passenger capacity all determine price, and choosing the right plane involves trade-offs. At first glance, price might make the propeller plane more attractive, but consider that unless the aircraft has a lavatory, you probably will need a pit stop. Also consider noise level. Jets have pressurized passenger cabins and fly at altitudes where the noise of the engines drops off, making conversations and meetings held at normal speaking volume possible. While it isn't impossible to converse in a propeller plane flying at 8,000 feet, you probably could not manage a nuanced business negotiation or romantic chat with your sweetheart. Do you need to stand up and speak to your group, make a phone call, have a cooked meal, watch a DVD or enjoy a few hours of uninterrupted sleep? Be ready to talk to you operator or broker about your needs and they'll help find the right aircraft for you.

You should also disclose any special type or quantity of baggage or equipment you'll be bringing along. A safe flight depends on appropriate weight and balance. You'd be surprised by some items that cause trouble. Snow skis, for example, are too long for the baggage compartment of many small aircraft. Operators are not allowed to lay loose items such as skis in the aisle. Travelers with monster golf bags can encounter similar snags. Also disclose things like the presence of heavy smokers, pets, or unusual items such as oxygen canisters or potentially flammable material.

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