Chapman Freeborn blog

What is the ultimate flying palace? VIP airliner comparison

The image of private aircraft charter is glamorous enough – it’s all about the legroom, plush interiors and a cabin free from crying children and large elbowed row-sharers. Nonetheless, the stereotypical private charter is a relatively small jet – offering luxury up to 50,000 feet at a compact 20 metres from front to back.

However, there exists a whole level beyond even the luxury jet: the VIP airliner, a breed of aircraft based on common passenger planes that aren’t far removed from buildings with wings or – as they’re described in business magazines such as Forbes – “flying palaces”.

Boeing Business Jet BBJ

The Boeing 737-based BBJ (Boeing Business Jet) is one of the most popular VIP Airliners

Luxury large group private air-travel comparison

So, with access to the $100m to $500m needed to own a VIP airliner, what could you get? And how do the biggest and best private planes on the market actually compare to each other? For our comparison, we’re going to focus on a number of VIP airliners that Chapman Freeborn work regularly with, including:

  • Airbus A319
  • Airbus A321
  • Boeing BBJ2
  • Boeing B747
  • Boeing B757
  • Boeing B767
  • Fokker 100
  • McDonnell Douglas MD-83

Performance – speed and range

The first thing a child asks about any mode of transport is how fast it goes – but in terms of comparing VIP airliners, speed may actually be somewhat less of a selling point. Sure, you want to ensure that your party arrives punctually to your destination, but wouldn’t you want to maximise the time you spend inside a VIP plane?

Airbus A 319 Airbus A 321 Boeing BBJ2 Boeing B747 Boeing B767 Fokker 100 McDonDouglas 83
Max Cruising Speed 903km/h 903km/h 1,000km/h 939km/h 980km/h 845km/h 925km/h
Range (At Max Takeoff Weight) 6845km 4352km 9,140km 13,491km 10,343km 2505km 4850km

As can be seen in the table above, the majority of planes can reach the 900km/h mark – around 559mph. Boeing’s 757 and 767 push the envelope up to 980km/h, with the BBJ2 coming out on top at 1,000km/h.

There’s two reasons to take this particular victory with a pinch of salt. Firstly there’s the aforementioned “what’s the hurry?” aspect of VIP flight. Secondly, it’s worth noting that the figures here are the easily available specs from passenger aircraft, which are usually weighed down with banks of chairs and other components thrown out for VIP versions. The one exception is the BBJ2 – Boeing’s Business Jet, one of the few ‘off the shelf’ VIP airliners.

The truth is, as far as top speed specs go, any other custom airliner is likely to be capable of speeds well in excess of the passenger model – so long as you don’t go too crazy with the super-dense marble interiors.

Fokker 100 VIP

Among slower, shorter-range options, the Fokker 100 still holds its own.

When it comes down to it, the real winner is surely the plane that gives you the longest time in the air, rather than the one that moves fastest through it. The venerable 747 may only be in the mid-range when it comes to speed, but that 13,000km range is technically enough to take you from London to Honolulu, with enough fuel to aimlessly circle around over the Atlantic for a bit (the straight-line distance is “only” 11,632 kilometers).

Flying high

Only the highest of the world’s money-making high flyers will ever get to afford their own VIP airliner, which begs the question: which is the highest flying of the lot?

Airbus A 319 Airbus A 321 Boeing BBJ2 Boeing B747 Boeing B757 Boeing B767 Fokker 100 McDonnell Douglas 83
Altitude 41,000 feet 41,000 feet 41,000 feet 41,000 feet 42,000 feet 43,000 feet 35,000 feet 41,000 feet

41,000 feet has been a long established service ceiling for civilian aircraft, and the majority of VIP airliners can reach this altitude if required. The Fokker 100 is limited to 35,000 feet – right in the sweet spot for fuel efficiency and power, but falling short of the upper limits of its peers.

Because they’re carrying less weight but equipped with similarly powerful engines, the 757 and 767 are able to push that little bit higher – Boeing claims that the 767 is capable of cruising at altitudes of up to 43,000 feet.

Boeing 767 VIP

The Boeing 767 (commercial passenger model shown) is one of the biggest, highest-flying jets in the air today.

Taking up the tarmac: aircraft dimensions

While size isn’t everything, you’re probably not buying a plane that other flyers can politely shoulder by while they taxi on the tarmac – you want as much of the taxiway and of the sky to yourself.

Airbus A 319 Airbus A 321 Boeing BBJ2 Boeing B747 Boeing B757 Boeing B767 Fokker 100 McDonnell Douglas 83
Wingspan 33.91m 34.09m 35.79m 64.4m 38m 51.9m 28.08m 32.9m
Length 33.84m 44.51m 39.47m 68.6m 54.4m 61.4m 35.53m 45.1m
Height 11.80m 11.76m 12.55m 19.4m 13.6m 16.9m 8.50m 9m

Once again, the 747 muscles its way to the top of our list – though at 60 metres long, the somewhat more svelte 767 is hardly a gift-horse to look in the mouth either.

Passenger potential

Airbus A 319 Airbus A 321 Boeing BBJ2 Boeing B747 Boeing B757 Boeing B767 Fokker 100 McDonnell Douglas 83
Seats 120-145 195-220 12-63 290-580 180-289 200-328 80-106 142-172

Once again, the numbers above reflect passenger capacities for commercial flights (with the exception of the 737-based BBJ2, which is specifically an executive airliner). Though you’re not going to sit 580 passengers on a 747 in maximum comfort, the numbers give you a good idea of the size of each plane. 80 tightly packed seats could make way for a Jacuzzi, 160 for a saloon bar: clearly, the widebody planes (like the 747 and 767) give interior designs much more space to breathe.

Boeing Business Jet 747 VIP

As far as status symbols go, a personalised 747 is probably in the upper leagues.

Interior comforts

This is where things get a little more complicated: while smaller craft such as the A319, A321 and BBJ2 are available in neat , ‘made to order’ configurations,  the rest are (arguably more excitingly) bespoke affairs. Nonetheless, the typical loadout of models like the Boeing Business Jet, available directly from the manufacturer give us some idea of the standards available:

  • Private suite with double bed and en-suite shower
  • 12 first-class sleeper seats
  • Rear galley with bathroom


  • 24 first-class sleeper seats
  • Conference area or exercise gym

Larger VIP jets, such as the 747, are provided “green” to their clients, who then order a bespoke interior from specialist designers – after all, if you’re one of the 12 VIP B747 owners worldwide, you can probably afford to have something entirely unique. However, aside from simply having more space in these larger jets, there’s no clear winner here – VIP jets are all available for bespoke work.

 Airbus ACJ319

Vijay Mallya’s Airbus A319 is reportedly worth around $80m