Call it trickle-down aviation economics. Commercial airlines are shifting their fleet operations and that’s forcing something of a scramble in the charter market, especially for sports teams. For the New England Patriots the answer is clear, if not particularly cheap: Buy a couple 767s and start an in-house charter operation. It is the first NFL team to own its own plane(s).
— Darren Rovell (@darrenrovell) August 8, 2017
The Patriots reportedly now own two 767s, fitted with custom interiors to keep players comfortable on board during the ~10 weekends each year they travel to road games. That infrequency of travel – only about 30 total days of utilization – is both a good thing and a bad thing for the team in terms of operating their own fleet. On the plus side, it should not have much trouble in terms of reliability or availability of the aircraft, especially with a second plane on standby just in case. On the down side, however, the costs to buy, maintain and operate the 767s are relatively high for so few trips. ESPN’s report suggests that the team will make the aircraft available for public charter outside the season to help offset the costs.
The custom interior of the plane will certainly be more comfortable for the players and could provide a competitive advantage to the team on the field, even on the road. While it is unlikely the team chose to go all-in on the Nike/Teague sports plane concept design, simply putting in larger seats with more pitch will be a huge improvement. Also of note is a similar sports plane design launched by Sukhoi for its SuperJet line. Way too small for the NFL and very unlikely to be flying in the USA anytime soon. But it is a cool concept the company launched just prior to the 2016 Olympics (discussed in the video below).
As for why the shift in the availability of charter aircraft, that requires a look at commercial airline practices. While baseball and basketball teams can get away with smaller aircraft such as the custom fitted Delta 757s a football team has more and larger people, as well as greater cargo requirements. That means a twin-aisle plane is a necessity. Historically Delta, American Airlines and United Airlines used their large international fleets and slower winter season to help meet these needs. In recent years, however, the airlines moved to retire older planes – both Delta and United will fully retire their 747s this year and American slashed its 767 fleet over the past couple years – so finding “spares” to fill the charter needs proves far more challenging.
American already told several teams it would not provide charter services this year, setting off a scramble to find replacement services. In many cases the teams are forced to charter two smaller planes; those are available while the larger frames are not. Faced with the prospect of less convenient and less comfortable travel accommodations the Patriots decided to spend some cash to solve the problem. It is almost certainly more expensive than charter flights would be, but it also means a better experience. And it seems they’ve got the cash to spare.
And the five NFL championship trophies on the tail isn’t a bad look, either.
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