As the use of private jets has been on a constant rise over the past few years, so has the attention their owners and environmental footprint. Activists have been increasingly blocking private airport terminals where possible to show their disapproval of the practice. However, the backlash seems to have little effect, as private jets keep soaring across the skies, well above commercial planes.
Although most commercial aircraft is certified to reach altitudes of up to 41,000 feet (12,500 metres), with several exceptions like the Airbus A350, Airbus A380 and Boeing 787 being certified to reach 43,100 feet (13,100 metres), the planes normally keep a cruising altitude of around 35,000 feet (10,600 metres).
On the other hand, most aircraft used for private flights are certified to reach up to 51,000 feet (15,500 metres), with the exception of Embraer Legacy, Praetor, Excel and Cessna Citation Longitude jets, which are capped at 45,000 (13,700 metres).
2. Capabilities and restrictions
One of the differences between commercial and private aircraft is their size. As private jets are much smaller and lighter than commercial planes, they can more easily soar up to higher altitudes, having a higher power-to-weight ratio. Due to their weight, commercial planes would also need a lot bigger wings to maintain higher altitudes, which would in turn increase their mass even more.
Additionally, in case of cabin depressurisation, all aircraft has to descend to less than 10,000 feet (3,000 metres) altitude, where the air is dense enough for passengers to be able to breathe. Not only do private jets have higher levels of oxygen supply, allowing them more time to reach safe altitudes, but they can also descend a lot faster than commercial planes, thus ensuring they can safely cruise at higher altitudes.
Cruising at higher altitudes has both financial and comfort benefits. The higher the altitude, the thinner the air, thus creating less friction and offering less resistance. This allows the jets to reach higher speeds and use less fuel at the same time. On the other hand, extra fuel will be needed to soar above commercial aviation altitudes, so route planners have to decide if the jet will save more fuel during cruising than it will use at take-off.
Air traffic above commercial operations is also a lot less crowded, allowing private jets to choose the routes they wish to take, usually being able to take more direct paths.
Lastly, as the air is calmer at higher altitudes, private flights rarely encounter turbulence causing wind shear or jet streams, making for a smoother journey. Even if they encounter turbulence or bad weather, they have more freedom to change course than commercial planes do.