Both commercial jets and private jets are characterized by the use of one or more jet engines. This is in stark contrast to propeller-powered airplanes, which feature one or more propellers to create propulsion. With that said, there are some key differences between commercial jets and private jets. You may have heard, for example, that private jets fly at a higher altitude than commercial jets. So, is there any truth to this statement, or do all jets fly at roughly the same altitude?
Yes, Private Jets Fly Higher Than Commercial Jets
Private jets do, in fact, fly at a higher altitude than their commercial counterparts. The average cruising altitude for commercial jets is about 35,000 feet. In comparison, the average cruising altitude for private jets is about 41,000 feet — with some private jets flying as high as 45,000 feet.
One of the reasons private jets fly at a higher altitude than commercial jets is to avoid heavy air traffic. According to Smithsonian, there are approximately 5,000 airplanes in the skies at any given time. With so many airplanes shuffling passengers to their destination, there’s an inherent risk of collision. Commercial jets, however, have more sensors and control measures to prevent midair collisions, meaning they generally aren’t affected by traffic. Private jets lack the high-tech sensors and controls of commercial jets, so pilots operating them typically fly at a higher altitude where there’s less traffic.
In addition to less traffic, flying at a higher altitude allows private jets to avoid bad weather with greater ease. Because there’s less traffic at higher altitudes, private jets can change their trajectory to avoid bad weather. If there’s a storm in the path of a private jet’s current trajectory, the pilot may change course to fly around it. While this can also be done at the lower altitudes of commercial jets, it’s easier to accomplish at a higher altitude where there’s less traffic.
Private Jets Also Ascend More Quickly Than Commercial Jets
It’s also worth mentioning that private jets ascend more quickly than commercial jets. A typical commercial jet may reach its cruising altitude of 35,000 feet in 10 minutes, whereas a private jet can achieve its cruising altitude in as little as five minutes.
To recap, private jets fly at a higher altitude than commercial jets for two specific reasons. First, there’s less traffic at higher altitudes, meaning private jets aren’t fighting for the same airspace as other airplanes. Second, flying at a higher altitude allows private jets to avoid bad weather.