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Volume 21 No. 30
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NFL considers airplane fleet to alleviate team travel costs

The NFL is considering investing in its own fleet of jets as teams continue to face escalating travel costs chartering their own aircraft.

With the airline industry flying at near full capacity, securing team charters is increasingly difficult. Costs last year doubled to an average of nearly $4 million per club for those leasing planes, team sources said, and that rise looks likely to continue. Worse, some teams worry that they could ultimately find themselves without access to charters as airlines decide the planes are better used in traditional commercial roles.

The New England Patriots purchased two 767 airplanes last year.
Photo: getty images

A typical NFL team needs a 747 jet, often retrofitted for its needs.

At last week’s spring owners meeting in Atlanta, NFL football operations executives presented several options, including one in which the league would invest capital into a new company that would secure long-term rights to the jets from a specific airline. Another option is for the league to negotiate on behalf of a group of teams, at least 10, with a single carrier.

It could not be determined which aviation companies the NFL has been talking with.

The sources all declined to be identified, citing the maturing stage of the process. The league could get a term sheet next month on the proposal to invest into a company that would secure the jets, with a full owners vote at their next meeting in October, one team source said.

Not all NFL teams are hurting in this area. The New England Patriots last year purchased two 767s, and clubs located in cities that are hubs for airlines — like Dallas, Atlanta and New York — often find it easier because the airlines have more planes available there.

But teams such as Green Bay, Baltimore and Jacksonville, to name a few, often have to turn to high-cost leasing firms. The Jaguars, for example, last season went with Atlas Air, seeing their costs double to $4 million.

The NBA for several years has secured planes for most of its clubs through an exclusive deal with Delta. The needs of the two leagues are different. The NBA has far more trips to offer an airline like Delta, with 10 times the number of regular-season games and a far longer postseason. And the airplanes are smaller because of each team’s smaller roster size. The NBA planes are retrofitted to account for the players’ height.

MLB and the NHL leave travel decisions to the teams. MLS actually restricts its teams to four charter flights per season, otherwise players have to fly commercial.