Private Aviation: The Sky’s No Longer the Limit

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 High-end tour operator Abercrombie & Kent has its own Boeing 757 outfitted to well-appointed perfection; the usual 88-seat configuration has been replaced with capacity for just 52 and the four-table club lounge is available for chef-prepared meals and drinks.

Necessity, not luxury, is the mother of invention. So it is not entirely surprising that many of today’s best examples in fashion, technology and design have roots in the armed services. Ray-Bans, Hummers, and, of course, the most sophisticated jets all originated for military use. Jets quickly crossed into the private sector as a means to facilitate convenient travel, predominantly for professional purposes. These days, vacationers are incorporating private aviation into their itineraries and expanding the world of travel possibilities like never before. Remote islands, unreachable mountain summits, precarious cliff tops…with the right equipment, no destination is too remote. The days of hopping on a Learjet for an important meeting have given way to hopping on a jet for VIP engagements that have nothing to do with business.

Surely it was a sign of the times when, earlier this year, Bombardier jets entered into an official partnership with Ultimate Escapes, a members-only vacation club with high-end destinations all over the world. Bombardier is the force behind some of the best known planes, including Learjet and Global Express. It is also the parent company of the Flexjet and Skyjet jet share outfits. Senior Vice President of Ultimate Escapes Gregg Amonette says the program has had great feedback since its initiation in May 2008. “Many of our customers opt to use private aviation on their vacations, it makes sense for them,” he says. It certainly does make sense; vacation is about relaxation and much of commercial air travel is anything but calming.

High-end tour operator Abercrombie & Kent has its own Boeing 757 outfitted to well-appointed perfection; the usual 88-seat configuration has been replaced with capacity for just 52 and the four-table club lounge is available for chef-prepared meals and drinks. There are private jet trips that focus on the Orient or Africa and there are a number of 24-day “Around the World” trips. One stop on the “Southward from the Peak” adventure (that begins in Hong Kong and ends in Bora Bora) is Beng Mealea. The site is one of the most secluded and untouched of Cambodia’s Khmer temples and has, for the most part, stayed that way because it is so inaccessible. Abercrombie & Kent uses helicopters to drop visitors just yards from the ruins.

Remote Lands, whose jets are provided by Executive Jet Management, specializes in Asian luxury bespoke travel and gives guests the option of flying in a Lear, Citation, Gulfstream, or Challenger. Flight times are flexible and with no waiting times at airports, travelers are able to see many places in a short time. Each part of the journey is customized; guests may bring their entourage of chefs, bodyguards, and personal trainers onboard or have Remote Lands provide them as needed.

Helicopters have become a skier’s best friend. Daredevils employ them to prospect for higher drops and steeper inclines while couples use them to find romantic runs for a slalom à deux. Ruby Mountain Heli-skiing in the mountains of northern Nevada specializes in ski and ride combinations, ensuring their guests have access to the most death defying peaks of Lamoille Canyon, which has been called Nevada’s Yosemite.

Amphibious airplanes have important practical applications. They are key in fighting forest fires and medical evacuation missions. In addition, they also come in handy for travelers trying to reach remote destinations where terrain may not be suited for landing but where water is plentiful. The Greeks have been island hopping for the last three millennia. So, when they recently set up a seaplane system to get from island to island, one has to assume that they knew what they were doing. In a country that has a total of 6,000 islands, many of which are tiny, a so-called puddle jumper is the ideal way to get around.

With so few undiscovered places on Earth, some adventurers are looking to the final frontier for the ultimate travel experience. While the Virgin Galactic program is still a few years shy of its inaugural journey, there are ways to get a taste of space travel right now. Extreme travel group G.A.P Adventures has a trip called Edge of the Earth. At a launch pad near Moscow, passengers board a MiG-31 and shoot straight into the atmosphere, breaking the sound barrier. As far as holiday photo ops go, they don’t get much better than the curving surface of the Earth seen from 13 miles away. And if anti-gravity is your thing, the Russian Federal Space Agency now shuttles civilians to the International Space Station. Although with a $30 million price tag, your wallet may be left feeling weightless, too.

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