Flying high: on board the new Praetor 600
There is something extra special about flying on a brand-new aircraft. It’s akin to the new car experience but comes with an even higher level of anticipation. Sinking into the pristine leather seats and enjoying the feel of the thick pile carpets as you settle down for the ride, it’s a thrill knowing you are the first person to enjoy a luxurious cabin which will go on to transport thousands of passengers during the aircraft’s life.
For this flight test, I’m turning right at the door instead of clambering into the cockpit. But unlike an airliner, turning right in this Praetor 600 jet made by Embraer provides an altogether superior experience. On the day of the test, G-FHFX had yet to fly any commercial passengers so there was genuine excitement among the crew and my fellow flyers.
The 600 is an impressive looking beast sitting within the super-midsize business jet category. The sleek lines and sparkling exterior reflect its factory freshness. But I was keen to get inside to sample what the marketeers describe as ‘a perfect union of performance, comfort and technology’ which you’d previously have found only on much larger aircraft from the likes of Gulfstream.
It's immediately clear that, with just one or two people on board, this would be a very luxurious experience indeed, providing the same level of comfort you’d enjoy in airline First Class. For the test flight there was a handful more of us – the aircraft can seat 12 but standard capacity is for eight – but the cabin still felt extremely spacious, whether you’re working or indulging in the fine-dining services. Operator Flexjet had arranged a superb menu from celebrity chef Tom Kerridge, with a bevy of delicious light bites followed by a superb slow-cooked glazed short rib and some tasty desserts.
Flicking through the vital statistics, we learned that the aircraft’s range can easily take you from London to New York or Sao Paulo to Miami; it is capable of 4,018 nautical miles in a single hop and long-range cruise speed. Best of all, it can fly this maximum range from a 4,436 feet runway and can operate from surfaces as short as 3,000 feet, giving the flyer access to more destinations and smaller airports closer to the ultimate destination.
Traditionally, to travel across the Atlantic on a private jet you needed to move up a category into a larger cabin aircraft. Price-wise, this level of luxury would have come at almost twice the price and yet the Praetor 600 comes with the latest technology and cabin interior. Viasat Ka-band Wifi connectivity comes as standard, which is essential for conducting business, not to mention streaming your favorite movie as if you were at home.
So, a key selling point for Embraer is providing a lot of aircraft and value for the money; for $23 million you get the same capacity and technology you’d find on a more expensive larger aircraft, including fly-by-wire flight controls.
The low cabin pressure means you are less likely to arrive feeling jet-lagged. And the HEPA filter onboard provides passengers with a level of comfort which makes it suitable for longer flights than others of its size. It circulates the air every six minutes. Cruising at 45,000 feet the cabin altitude is just 5,000 feet. And the pair of powerful Honeywell HTF7500E turbofans give a massive kick in the backside as the jet accelerates for takeoff.
So, who are Embraer and Flexjet aiming at with the Praetor 600?
Flexjet’s managing director Marine Eugène explains that a large section of the population can now afford private aviation.
“There is tremendous potential, but private aviation is not as mature yet as in America,” says Eugène. “There is a perception in Europe that it may be something exclusive. The pandemic has started to change that.”
COVID-19 has been a big driver for the private jet traveler, encouraging those who can afford it to avoid large public airports in favor of quieter Fixed Base Operators. But it’s not just about the premium end of the market. Flying private is now around 20% ahead of where it was pre-pandemic and many operators, particularly in the US, are seeing surging enquiries via their web platforms from new flyers.
For people dipping a toe in the market, going on a Gulfstream was a big step up. So, smaller aircraft like the 600 feel more accessible in the circumstances and could well be the gateway to further private jet travel in the future.
One noticeable trend has been in so-called ‘revenge travel’ with people jetting away to make up for time lost due to COVID. Eugène says: “People want to get out and do all the things they have not been able to do in the past two years, whether for leisure or business. They also want the flexibility.”
With the spotlight on climate change and aviation’s part in it, decarbonisation of aviation is a hot topic. Although the industry only accounts for 2-3% of emissions at present, that percentage will grow as other sectors decarbonise faster.
“It should not be a debate,” Eugène says. “Carbon offsetting should be priced in. Our offset is 300% across all our flights. We are keen to highlight to customers that we have brand-new aircraft and this means emissions are lower thanks to the newer technology”’
Looking ahead, sustainable fuels (SAF) and eventually electric propulsion are developments that the industry is betting will help make real inroads into its environmental footprint. Availability of SAF is key in the short term. Operators are pushing for more to be produced and made available at more airports. Customers currently have the option to ask for SAF to be used on their flights. It is more expensive but, as more adopt the technology, the price will come down.
Like many operators, Flexjet offers customers the ability to personally offset and tailor an extra level of commitment as they see fit. The company is optimistic that aviation can reinvent itself again for a new era of a more environmentally conscious world facing climate change.
“The world’s high net worths need to travel and they want to do it as efficiently as possible. There is no way aviation is going away,” says Eugène. “The level of interdependence between the world is too strong. So, greener solutions will come.
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