What is an Empty Leg?

Explanation of what Empty Legs are and explore how the cost of renting a private jet is calculated which makes low cost private jets possible.

It is important first to get familiarized with the phraseology that is commonly used in the business of air charter:

Aircraft Owner:
This is the person or entity holding the title-deed of a particular aircraft.

Aircraft Operator:
A qualified company that holds the required certification by relevant governmental authorities to manage and operate aircraft to generate revenue. An Operator may also be the Owner of the aircraft or act on behalf of another Owner.

End User:
The passenger or passengers represented individually, as a group or as a company or organization who avail the services of air charter in accordance with a given flight schedule. The End User is also referred to as the Client or Customer.

Air Charter Broker:
A well-established company with the required qualification and experience that would enable it to act as an intermediary and facilitator between aircraft owners and/or operators and end users (clients/customers).

Home Base:
The airport at which a particular aircraft is based and from which it starts all its flights and to which it returns after every flight or series of flights.

Floating Base:
This applies to aircraft that do not operate from a fixed home base. That means if the aircraft ends at a certain airport, it makes it its home until it is off to another as may be required by its flight schedule.

Positioning Flight:
The flight that is performed to position the aircraft to the airport from which it will perform its first trip in the flight schedule. Further explained: If the trip is from Airport “B” to Airport “C” but the aircraft is at Airport “A”, the trip from A to B is the positioning flight. Should the aircraft be required to return to Airport “A”, then the trip from C to A is also a positioning flight.

The portion of flight from one airport to another. It is also referred to as “Live Sector/Leg” when there are passengers on board, otherwise, it is considered a positioning flight or Empty Leg.

Empty Leg:
Is exactly what the phrase denotes. An aircraft operating a sector without passengers. So, in a way, it is a positioning flight. It is also sometimes referred to as a Ferry Flight. More about this later.

Full Charter:
Is when the air charter cost is calculated from home base and back to home base, irrespective of the number of intermediate stops in the flight schedule.

Point-to Point Charter:
Is when the air charter cost is calculated from Airport “A” to Airport “B” without the need for

How is the cost of air charter calculated?
Avoiding the Triangle:

The Bermuda Triangle is an aviation myth. But the charter calculation triangle is a fact. The latter must be avoided as much as possible to make the charter rate cost effective.

Generally, the cost of a charter flight is calculated from home base and back to home base. If the aircraft’s home base is London and the trip is to Paris on way, the flight time charged will be the total of the two sectors, i.e. London – Paris and Paris – London, although the flight is requested just for one way. However, if a return trip is requested, the total flight time will be the same and the layover duration is charged as extra. The flight is very much a straight line – the shortest distance between two airports.

The point here is, for the above flight and to avoid extra positioning which means extra flight time and consequently a higher price, the best options for a trip from London to Paris is to get an aircraft from London or Paris if the trip is one way, and only from London if it is a round trip.

Therefore, if the trip is from London to Paris as in the above example, it is not cost effective to get an aircraft from Brussels or even Liverpool, as this way you will have a triangle which translates to more cost.

Point-to-Point Calculation:

The calculation method outlined above is called Full Charter and is based on the aircraft having a fixed home base. On the other hand, the concept of point-to-point calculation is based on the aircraft having a floating base, whereby the customer doesn’t pay for positioning and is only liable for the actual live sector, i.e. the portion of the flight with passengers on board.

This method is used by operators who have their aircraft solely available for charter. This way, if a client takes a private flight one way from Dubai to Geneva, the operator will keep the aircraft at Geneva until it is ready to move again. This doesn’t necessarily mean that the next flight must be from Geneva. It may be out of Frankfurt to Abu Dhabi, so the positioning flight is only a short hop from Geneva to Frankfurt. In such cases, the operator may absorb the cost of the positioning flight or add it to the live sector, but the important factor here is that excessive positioning has been eliminated. This allows the customer a good rate and allows the operator to maximize the utilization of the aircraft.

Unfortunately, most aircraft have a fixed home base and thus point-to-point is not all that common in the industry. And this is one reason why empty legs have become so popular.

So, what is an Empty Leg?

Citing the example above, the one-way flight from London to Paris has generated an Empty Leg from Paris to London as the aircraft has to return to its home base. As the one way was a full charter, the empty leg in this case will be sold at a much- reduced price. This is a win-win situation for both the Operator and the Client.

Empty legs are also generated when an aircraft has to be flown to a maintenance facility for a routine check-up. If the aircraft home base is Dubai and the facility is in Munich, two empty legs have already been generated. One before and one after the routine check-up is done. These empty legs will be advertised by the Operator on its website, by email campaign, or on online platforms dedicated for this purpose. It is worth mentioning that this fact is not lost on aircraft owners, so what sometimes happens is that the owner will plan a trip around the maintenance dates.

With the above example in mind, the owner may plan a trip to Munich itself or any other European capital, spend a period of leisure or engage in business and get picked-up once the maintenance is over.

Why isn’t the positioning flight sold to another customer in advance?
Flying private is a bespoke travel solution. Therefore, the Operator may not always find a customer willing to pay the full-price for a particular flight route or specific schedule, as the main reason behind flying private is to have the departure date and time that will suit your requirement. Thus, the operator must sell the main flight at full charter rates. If they don’t and can’t sell the empty leg, they will be out of pocket.

In certain cases, if a flight is booked a month or more in advance, the operate may sell the live sector at point-to-point pricing and advertise the positioning flight accordingly. Operators and Brokers will always try to give their clients the best deal, so if it is in any way feasible to sell point-to-point, i.e. eliminate positioning, they will do it. This way two clients are happy and that creates loyalty which is a factor conducive to good faith, better business and long-term relationships.

How much does an empty leg cost?

Empty leg flights are often sold at up to 75% discount off the full charter price. The exact price depends on the requested route and weather the empty leg is an exact match, a close match or an off-route. Operators are usually prepared to offer extensively discounted rates to fill these empty leg flights.

If you cannot afford full charter prices or have never used a private jet before, an empty leg could be the best way to experience flying in a private jet with all the amenities that come with it be it on the ground or in flight.

Empty Leg Amenities
The fact that you are flying on an empty leg at a reduced rate doesn’t take away any of the amenities that come with it. You will still depart from and arrive to dedicated private jet lounges, get to dine on board if the flight is long enough, all that on top of the total privacy and security of private jet travel.

Where can I find empty legs?
Depending on where you are on the globe, you will find dedicated websites, like this one www.emptylegs.ae. However, the best way is to look for a well experienced private jet charter broker to help you out. The brokerage company doesn’t necessarily have to be in your immediate locality, as charter brokers by the very nature of their scope of service, have a worldwide reach. Also, being part of the industry, they have at their disposal extensive lists of empty legs that are updated by the hour. They also can access online platforms that are not available to the general public.

While searching for an empty leg, you need to have a certain degree of flexibility on the date and/or time of departure. The empty leg is always dependent on the original flight whose timing are route are fixed. Having said that, more often than not, you may find an empty leg that meets your requirements exactly without having to alter your desired flight schedule. This shouldn’t deter you from embarking on a search for an empty leg. You will be surprised of the chances that are available every day, and some of which are squandered because there were no callers when the aircraft were readily available – in some cases – at almost airline first class rates!

What is the Difference between “Empty Legs”, “Ferry Flights”, “Deadheads”, and “One-Ways”?

– Empty legs are the positioning flights created when an aircraft needs to move empty from one airport to another to pick-up or drop-off its owner or a client. The aircrafts movements are generally from home-base and back to home-base. The resultant positioning flights, where the aircraft must move empty, are the cause to generating low point-to-point pricing.

– Deadhead is an almost obsolete term that is synonymous with Empty Leg, in which the aircraft is flying without passengers. A deadhead is the opposite of a “live leg” or “live sector” – a flight with passengers on board.

– One-ways are using an aircraft in a certain flight route where the plane does not need to return to its home-base. Therefore, the aircraft picks up a succession of fare paying clients from airport to airport linked by landing and then departing in the same general geographical area. One-ways are a great value since the air charter does not involve unnecessary positioning. This is done mostly by aircraft that operate without a fixed home-base or an aircraft in the circumstances doesn’t need to return to its home-base.

Cant find an empty leg that suits your needs?

If you still cannot find a empty leg or transient aircraft to suit your needs you can also avail of our live jet quote tool. This private jet quote tool will give you a realtime competitive price on chartering a private jet to your desired private location at a time that suits you.

For over 26 years, Private Jet Charter has been providing air charter services to personal and business clients the world over. Our vast and extensive experience in aircraft charter has enabled us to establish ourselves as one of the leading private jet rental providers in the Middle East, and our dedication to continued development and customer service enhancement is what sets us apart in the field of private aircraft rental.

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