Private drones: the intimate jet airfares of fly-by-night billionaires

Budget coach types are changing the nature of passenger experiences in many ways, writes Dan Milmo

The Metrojet crash in Egypt last October prompted a flurry of pleaous but valid questions about flight safety. At last count, investigators had listed a total of 105 failures of air-traffic control control in the run-up to the crash, half of them potentially contributory.

This was one of several factors the Queen cited in her New Year’s Day address when she urged Britain to join forces to limit the use of private jets, or rather they to be banished from civilian airspace. At the same time her majesty’s head of state and others are waving a red flag over private aviation – warning it is about to become impossible to reach.

It is in response to the Queen’s remarks that the ultimate super-business citizen might begin to emerge. Just as with the humongous executive jets, the tri-purpose and tiny aircraft are useful and high-functioning machines. On the downside, they are all much more visible, for a start. But it is why the expensive (except, hopefully, that of the mogul) VIP-fuelled equivalents of the contemporary coach-class model are so intriguing that makes them so interesting to observe.

Why superbusiness minisuites are the future of flying

Skype is becoming a particularly effective ally to business, only just getting full use out of the passenger benefits of the online call service. Currently called SkyBell, its main customer is Phil Collins.

A video of the recording of his concert in Las Vegas last year shows a drone being launched in mid-air and the artist, in the moment before its recovery, dancing wildly around in the sand dunes.

The majority of Skype calls are also made from land, as we pointed out last year.

When passengers travel in a commercial jet, they are tended by crew and a lot of effort is made to ensure their privacy, often meaning that a pre-loaded earpiece or special mask only needs to be worn for the basics.

Not so with private drones, which are not covered by privacy laws. On the other hand, although they have ballooning ranges and utilise tiny powerful engines, a private drone is much lighter and more manoeuvrable than a commercial airliner, making it at least a good second choice for such sometimes jovial youngsters as the Queen.

The inside of one British-built drone on an enclosed grounds in Cornwall, whose owner was arrested last year over its use in filming on a school campus. Photograph: Ben Birchall/PA

Some 60,000 airliners and helicopters fly within the UK’s airspace each day. Around 60,000 of them are privately owned; they are designed, built and operated in the UK and many are owned, operated and managed by pilots using, or moving from, the UK airways.

But many jet-set owners are engaging with bigger commercial and government-funded models, either via flight simulator training or across the sky from the former. Theoretically they are all about making money from the passengers in their plutocratic flight cabins.

Small and quiet jets, too, are becoming more accessible. The UK-built private Dragonfly is just one among dozens of small turbine-electric planes with a potential to expand into the private jet market.

Super-coach types are changing the nature of passenger experiences in many ways, from delivering handshakes and smiles to designing the aircraft interior into enhanced hotel/retail units, for example.

The British company Heckler & Koch, established in 2001 in its Swiss capital Bern, has been making excellent personal commercial coaches as part of its lucrative light fighter jet business since the 1990s. They have since created the electric Ski jet, launched in 2011, which is scheduled to go into service later this year.

This is just a more efficient, rather tiny version of one of its other planes. For sure, this is a more gentler way of economy, but it is no more romantic or romanticised. Why must romance end there?

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