Top private jet companies got $200 million from the government

An airport ground crew prepares a Cessna 510 jet airplane for takeoff at Santa Fe Municipal Airport in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

Robert Alexander | Getty Images

The major private jet companies, including Wheels Up and OneSky Flight, received more than $200 million in government funding under the government’s payroll support program, according to recent filings.

OneSky Flight, which includes Flexjet, Flight Options, Sentient Jet and PrivateFly, received $84 million from the CARES Act Payroll Support Program, according to the Treasury Department list. Wheels Up, which includes Gama Aviation, Delta Private Jets and TMC Jets, received $74 million. Clay Lacy Aviation, the charter company, received $27 million and XOJET Aviation received $13 million.

Private jet companies say the grants helped them retain their employees during the pandemic and support countless other jobs and contractors that depend on private aviation. Wheels Up has kept all of its 1,800 workers since March, for example, and OneSky has also avoided layoffs during the coronavirus pandemic.

Yet granting taxpayer funds to private jet companies that cater to the wealthy and large corporations has sparked some criticism. While commercial airlines are still operating at a fraction of their former traffic, private jet companies have bounced back more quickly with a surge of new customers, since the wealthy have been less impacted by the crisis. Many private jet companies say they are now running at between 70% to 85% of their pre-Covid-19 business, as the affluent return to the skies in the safety of their own private cabins and private jet terminals.

“It’s hard to imagine anything worse,” said Dean Baker, senior economist at the liberal-leaning Center for Economic and Policy Research. “Putting up public money to support an industry that serves the rich would be hard to justify. It’s absurd.”

OneSky, part of Directional Aviation, said it is one of 200 or more companies that received funding through the program and that it helped prevent layoffs.

“This is not about propping up a service for the wealthy, as some have inaccurately portrayed it,” Kenn Ricci, principal of Directional Aviation Capital, said in a statement to CNBC. “It’s about preserving the jobs of thousands and ensuring that an industry that touches Americans across all income levels and geographies continues to thrive in a post-pandemic world.”

NetJets, the largest private jet company, owned by Berkshire Hathaway, did not apply for or receive funding.

In an interview with Private Jet Card Comparisons, Ricci said: “We are disappointed that some of our largest peers who would have qualified for PSP funding did not apply. They too could have had more capital to support employees, suppliers, vendors and more importantly our industry’s growth.”

The Treasury Department said the amounts given to each carrier is based on their payroll expenses from April 2019 to September 2019, and that “funds received by these air carriers and contractors must exclusively be used for the continuation of payment of employee wages, salaries and benefits.”

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