How High Can Private Jets Fly?

It is commonly thought that private jets can fly higher than other aircraft, but how true is this? How high can private jets actually fly?

As with all other aspects of private jets, all aircraft aren’t created equal. Therefore, we see a distinct difference between the maximum cruising altitude of some jets versus others.

Maximum Altitude of All Private Jets

When looking at the graph of the maximum altitude of every private jet there are two things to notice.

Firstly, unlike with other variables such as speed or range, the maximum altitude figures of these aircraft are very equal.

There is very little to be gained by the customer by having an aircraft that can fly marginally higher than the competition. In comparison, having a greater range than the competition will make a significant difference to the customer.

Secondly, the maximum altitude figures are all grouped together in blocks. Again, unlike the speed and range figures of aircraft.

That is to say that there are only 7 groups of maximum altitude figures: 41,000 feet, 42,000 feet, 43,000 feet, 45,000 feet, 47,000 feet, 49,000 feet, and 51,000 feet.

Of course, there are a couple of outliers. Firstly, the Cirrus Vision Jet SF50 with a maximum cruising altitude of just 31,000 feet. However, given that this aircraft doesn’t fit into the category of a conventional jet this is hardly a surprise.

Other than the Vision Jet we find the Hawker 400XP with an unusual maximum altitude of 43,450 feet.

Large Aircraft Maximum Altitude

All large private jets have a maximum cruising altitude of within 10,000 feet.

On the lower end of the spectrum, we have the aircraft that can cruise up to 41,000 feet.

The aircraft that make up this group are some of the older Bombardier Challenger aircraft, along with the Embraer Lineage 1000 and 1000E. Furthermore, the Embraer Legacy 650 and Legacy 650E round off this group.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, we have the private jets that can cruise at the highest altitude of them all – 51,000 feet.

This group is made up of the largest of the large jets, along with some of the most modern – such as the latest Gulfstream’s and the Bombardier Global aircraft.

In between these two groups of aircraft we see some of the older flagship aircraft. This is a trend that also applies to the maximum cruise speed of private jets.

Medium Aircraft Maximum Altitude

The majority of midsize private jets are all within the 45,000 feet maximum cruising altitude group.

These aircraft are a mix of ages, with aircraft such as the new Embraer Praetor 500 along with older aircraft such as the Gulfstream G200.

At the top end of the spectrum, there are the aircraft that can cruise at up to 51,000 feet. These six aircraft are the Bombardier Learjet 55, Bombardier Learjet 55C, Bombardier Learjet 60, Bombardier Learjet 60XR, Cessna Citation VI, and the Cessna Citation VII.

At the opposite end of the graph, we find the Hawker aircraft – with the exception of the Hawker 1000.

With a maximum cruising altitude of 41,000 feet, the group is made up of the Hawker 700, Hawker 750, Hawker 800A, Hawker 800SP, Hawker 800XP, Hawker 800XPi, and Hawker 850XP.

Light Aircraft Maximum Altitude

The next category of aircraft to look at are the light jets.

However, unlike with speed and range, the maximum cruising altitude of light jets is within the same range as the larger aircraft.

Of course, there are a few exceptions to this rule. Namely the older aircraft which are at the lower end of the table.

Aircraft such as the Cessna Citation I, Beechcraft Premier I, and Mitsubishi Diamond 1A can cruise as high as 41,000 feet.

Whereas at the top end of the light jets there are the Bombardier Learjet aircraft which dominate the competition with a maximum cruising altitude of 51,000 feet.

However, the altitude that most light jets reside at is 45,000 feet. Popular light jets such as the Embraer Phenom 300E, Cessna Citation CJ4, and Nextant 400XTi are all part of this group.

Very Light Jets (VLJ) Maximum Altitude

And finally, the Very Light Jets. These are aircraft that are perfect for just a couple of passengers, flying for short hops.

With just two exceptions all the VLJs on this list are capable of cruising at up to 41,000 feet.

The only exceptions to this are the HondaJet HA-420 and the Cirrus Vision Jet SF50, with a maximum cruising altitude of 43,000 feet and 31,000 feet respectively.

In between these two aircraft there are VLJs such as the Cessna Citation M2, Cessna Citation Mustang, Eclipse 500, Eclipse 550, Embraer Phenom 100, Embraer Phenom 100E, and the Embraer Phenom 100EV. All these aircraft can cruise as high as 41,000 feet.

Benefits of Flying at a Higher Altitude

There are two key reasons that it is beneficial for aircraft to cruise at higher altitudes.

  • Lower Fuel Burn
    • The higher an aircraft goes, the lower the density of air. This, therefore, results in less drag on the aircraft. Less drag results in less force needed to push through. This, ultimately, results in a lower fuel burn as less effort is required for the aircraft to fly through the air.
  • Increased Comfort
    • Generally speaking, cruising at higher altitudes will result in less turbulance. This, therefore, results in increased passenger comfort.

However, it is important to note that while flying higher will produce these benefits, the gains are marginal between 41,000 feet and 51,000 feet.

Although, just like how aircraft don’t always fly at their maximum cruise speed, private jets also don’t always fly at their maximum altitude. However, the higher an aircraft can potentially fly, the more flexible it can be in getting as high as possible.

Summary

Comparing how high private jets can fly is unlike comparing almost any other measure.

With most other measures there are caveats and numerous factors that will influence the real world capabilities of each aircraft.

Moreover, it is highly unusual to see aircraft grouped together in such a consistent way.