First impressions I arrived at the Ively Gate entrance to Farnborough airport at 1300 for my 1400 departure on flight N260CX. My passport details had been submitted for security clearance a few days before the flight, so having shown my passport at the security barrier I was directed through to the new TAG terminal building. Rather than the usual rows of check-in desks, I was greeted by reception staff who took a note of my name and directed me to the lounge. This is a sleek area, with black leather sofas, floor-to-ceiling windows looking out on to the runway, a self-service area with tea, coffee and soft drinks available, and various newspapers and magazines, including several aviation publications.
Boarding Our aircraft was arriving into Farnborough from Belgrade, where it had been chartered that morning, and touched down at around 1330. I was travelling in a party of six (the Citation X takes up to eight passengers) and we were invited to board at just before 1400 – the aircraft was no more than 50 yards from the terminal, but a people-carrier chauffeured us the short distance. Once in our seats we quickly taxied past several other private jets parked on the tarmac, and were airborne a few minutes later – I was impressed at how quickly the aircraft picks up speed before take-off compared with a larger scheduled carrier.
The aircraft The Citation X is billed as a midsized jet, and the cabin, which is slightly too short for me (at six foot) to stand up straight in, is configured 1-1 with two groups of four seats facing each other to enable meetings in-flight (see layout above). The beige leather seats are both comfortable and adjustable for recline and swivel direction, and there are pullout desks for working, as well as sunken cup holders, in-seat power and private TV screens (ours were showing the flight-path details, although entertainment can be customised for chartering purposes). The catering galley is located at the front of the aircraft, with the washroom at the back, including a cupboard for hanging jackets. Unlike some private jets, the hold is not accessible from the cabin during flights, but there is space for smaller bags behind the seats.
The flight With the demise of Concorde, the twin-jet Citation X is currently the world's fastest commercial jet, capable of speeds of over Mach 0.9. This meant a flight time of less than one and a half hours for the 705-mile journey to Vitoria in Spain's northern Basque region. We were served drinks and snacks shortly after take-off, although again catering can be customised depending on the passengers and flight length – the Citation X has a maximum range of just over 3,000 nautical miles, which will cover London to the Middle East direct. At one point a beeping noise started up from within the open cockpit, and I was informed by a member of the Cessna team that this was a warning that the plane was exceeding the speed imit – indeed he proudly pointed out of the window to a distant Boeing aircraft that we were overtaking. The flight was smooth throughout, and we descended on time through a wide valley towards Vitoria airport.
Arrival Vitoria airport is relatively tiny, although Ryanair has recently started a four-times-weekly service there from Stansted. We were quickly through customs, and with no wait for our baggage were outside the airport within ten minutes of landing.
Verdict A comfortable, convenient, stress-free journey – there's no doubt that flying by private jet has its advantages. There is also a certain kudos attached to flying about as fast as planes will go (unless you're a fighter pilot).
Chartering For a return journey Farnborough-Vitoria, including an overnight stop, Air Partner charters a Citation X on an ad hoc basis from £22,000, depending on availability. Membership scheme JetCard offers members a guaranteed price of £24,200, with no charges for cancellations made before 0700 the day prior and no additional landing or fuel surcharges. The Citation X is a relatively expensive aircraft due to its high performance and scarcity – alternatives within the Cessna range include the nine-seater XLS+ (from £8,600 through London Executive Aviation), and the seven-seater Citation Bravo (from £7,000).