Private jets are able to fly at an altitude of up to 51,000 feet, though most will cruise at 41,000 feet. Private jets, therefore, fly higher than commercial planes, which is down to a few key reasons.
In this article, we answer why and how private jets are capable of flying at such high altitudes, compare how high a private jet flies compares to commercial planes, and answer a couple more of the most commonly asked questions about private jets.
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How High Private Jets Fly vs. Commercial Planes
Private jets can fly at an altitude of up to 51,000 feet, though most will cruise at 41,000 feet. Commercial planes, on the other hand, like the Boeing 747, fly at an average altitude of 35,000 feet.
This isn’t to say that some commercial planes aren’t capable of flying almost as high as private jets, though. The Boeing 747-8, for example, has a maximum ceiling of 43,100 feet, which some private jets max out at and even beats some models too. The 747-8 will rarely reach this altitude, and certainly not beyond.
This is because when a plane reaches its certified ceiling, the engines would eventually lose the ability to produce enough thrust to continue the climb.
Related: How High Do Planes Fly?
The Altitude Private Jets Fly At
Here are some of the most popular private jets and how high they can fly in feet.
Note that the service ceiling is used – i.e. the maximum usable altitude of an aircraft.
- Bombardier Global Express: 51,000 feet
- Cessna Citation X: 51,000 feet
- Gulfstream G550: 51,000 feet
- Cessna Citation XLS: 45,000 feet
- Cessna Citation CJ2: 45,000 feet
- Embraer Phenom 300: 45,000 feet
- Nextant 400XTi: 45,000 feet
- Embraer Legacy 600: 41,000 feet
- Cessna Citation Mustang: 41,000 feet
- Embraer Phenom 100: 41,000 feet
If we compare these planes to the Boeing 747-8 (43,100 feet) and Airbus A380 (42,000 feet), we can see that some private jets are actually incapable of flying as high as commercial airliners.
Interestingly, despite this, a private jet will still generally cruise at a higher altitude than a commercial plane and will fly as close to its service ceiling as possible if the ceiling maxes out at 41,000 feet.
Why Private Jets Fly At Such High Altitudes
There are three reasons why private jets fly at such high altitudes: to avoid traffic, weather avoidance, and to fly faster.
Ultimately, these three things mean that private jets can get to their destination faster, which is even more important for private jet passengers who usually use this luxurious mode of transport for business purposes and when time is of the essence.
Reduced Air Traffic
While it might not seem like it because you rarely see another plane when you are flying, there are actually thousands of planes in the sky at any given time – up to 5,000 in fact. Unlike car traffic, though, there must be plenty of distance between planes because collision could lead to catastrophic consequences.
Flying at such a high altitude means that pilots can fly more of a direct route and don’t have to alter their flight path to accommodate another aircraft.
After all, private jets can avoid virtually all other types of planes except other private jets due to these being the only types of planes that fly at such altitudes.
Due to the reduced air traffic at 41,000 feet, private jets are able to modify their course to avoid unfavorable weather conditions that may slow them down.
For example, a private jet can fly around a storm, which will not only mean that passengers will get to their destination faster, but also results in a more comfortable journey.
The higher the altitude, the less air resistance there is, which means that a plane can fly faster while also being more fuel efficient.
Commercial airliners usually have a cruising speed of approximately 500 mph, whereas a private jet can fly as fast as 600 mph.
Additionally, due to the combination of less fuel, a lighter payload and greater power to weight ratio compared to commercial airliners, private jets can ascend faster while also reaching their cruising speed more quickly.
How Private Jets Are Able to Fly At Such High Altitudes
Private jets are able to fly at such high altitudes for a few reasons.
- A better power to weight ratio than commercial airliners means that a private jet can ascend to a higher altitude more easily and quickly.
- Private jets have very large wings, which are better suited to generate positive lift as the air gets thinner with altitude.
- The smaller cabins of private jets are easier to pressurize than the larger ones of commercial aircraft.
- Private jets use turbofan engines with lower bypass ratios than commercial airliners, which makes them more efficient in the very thin air at higher altitudes.
Private Jets Can Fly Above Turbulence
Another big benefit of private jets is that they are mostly able to fly in the stratosphere and above turbulence. The reason for this is that the air density decreases as the altitude increases, resulting in fewer and less severe weather events.
Private jet pilots can also change their flight path more easily than other planes, so in any case, even if there is turbulence, they can take a different route to avoid it.
However, as a private jet is generally lighter than a commercial airliner, when turbulence is present, it may be felt more strongly.
Helen Krasner holds a PPL(A), with 15 years experience flying fixed-wing aircraft; a PPL(H), with 13 years experience flying helicopters; and a CPL(H), Helicopter Instructor Rating, with 12 years working as a helicopter instructor.
Helen is an accomplished aviation writer with 12 years of experience, having authored several books and published numerous articles while also serving as the Editor of the BWPA (British Women Pilots Association) newsletter, with her excellent work having been recognized with her nomination of the “Aviation Journalist of the Year” award.
Helen has won the “Dawn to Dusk” International Flying Competition, along with the best all-female competitors, three times with her copilot.