JetSuite moves into management and charter broking
JetSuite was debating whether to launch private charter operations from the east coast of the US when it last spoke to Corporate Jet Investor.
Having expanded to the point where it was able to offer non-stop flights from New York to the Caribbean in November 2013, JetSuite’s growth is continuing, with a move into aircraft management and charter broking expected before the end of 2014.
ALSO READ: JetSuite: Proving the VLJ sceptics wrong
“We are going to get into the charter broker business next month,” Alex Wilcox, CEO of JetSuite, told Corporate Jet Investor at NBAA 2014. “We are also expanding into the management business – at least for the aircraft models that we currently operate.”
Wilcox plans to bring a level of transparency previously unseen in the charter broker market. He also expects to leverage JetSuite’s buying power to bring down aircraft management costs significantly. “We buy more Phenom 100 parts than anyone of the planet,” he says.
“We believe we have the best operating team,” says Wilcox, who now hires 200 around people as part of JetSuite.
Steady as she goes
Wilcox’s background is in commercial aviation, having previously helped launch JetBlue, a low-cost airline in the US.
“The private aviation industry does not respond to low pricing in the same way,” he says. “Every day is extremely different; some days are extremely busy, other days are extremely slow.”
By the end of 2014, JetSuite will have a fleet of 21 Wi-Fi-equipped very light jets (VLJs), consisting of 13 Embraer Phenom 100s and eight Cessna Citation CJ3s. JetSuite flew 18,500 hours in 2013 and is on track to hit 21,000 hours by the year end. In recognition of its growth, the company was recently named the fourth largest charter operator in the US by hours flown – and yet Wilcox still describes the company’s progress as “steady as she goes.”
Wilcox may well be comparing his company to some of his more media-hungry competitors in the charter market, but JetSuite is no stranger to publicity, having courted over 54,000 followers on Facebook with its lucrative online private jet deals, that give passengers the chance to book flights from New Orleans to Atlanta or San Jose to Van Nuys for less than $550 each.
Still, JetSuite’s presence at NBAA is low-key, with Wilcox saying he prefers to use air shows to directly make charter brokers aware of his company’s activities, rather than using press conferences to drum up hyperbole out of thin air.
Respect for Embraer
JetSuite has had a strong relationship with Embraer since launching charter operations with a Phenom 100. With the Phenom 300 likely to become the most-delivered private jet for a second year running, Embraer’s appearance at this year’s NBAA convention felt almost like a victory lap – particularly as it brought its full range of aircraft to the static display for the first time ever.
Wilcox believes there is a very good reason for the company’s impressive delivery figures. “They make the most reliable aircraft,” he said. “We keep a top 10 list of problems with our airplanes. The 10 problems with our Phenoms are always new ones, which means they’re getting fixed.”
The fact still remains that the VLJs were hit hard by the economic downturn and the market is becoming even more crowded, with the Cessna Citation M2 and the Eclipse 550 both entering the market in the past year, and certification for the eagerly-awaited HondaJet looming.
“Unfortunately, the HondaJet does not have the range to get from New York to Florida in the winter,” says Wilcox. “There is not much it can do than the Phenom cannot; if it had a couple more hundred miles of range we would be very interested.”
Pilots and safety
There have already been nine fatal accidents involving business jets this year, resulting in 40 fatalities. It goes without saying that the safety of his pilots and passengers is something that Wilcox takes incredibly seriously.
For starters, JetSuite will only take on pilots with over 3,000 hours in their logbooks. But the company also takes active steps to guarantee their pilots a good standard of living once they have been hired.
“We pay more than airlines,” says Wilcox. “Our pilots also fly over 700 airports versus 70, which makes things more fun.”
Wilcox sees the biggest threat to safety as “customer pressure,” which can cause a pilot to do something that they are not completely comfortable with.
“Passengers are very creative at trying to find ways of getting the pilot to risk their certificates,” says Wilcox.
Often this is something that can seem quite trivial – like carrying 400 lb of baggage rather than 300 lb or wanting to store a wooden crate of wine inside the cabin rather than the hold – but occasionally, a passenger’s demands can be the difference between life and death.
“The day before a Challenger crashed in Aspen, I had to explain to a customer that we had to take him down the road rather than land at Aspen Airport, because of the weather,” says Wilcox. “He was not too pleased at the time, but I would rather have that kind of call than speak to his family after an accident.”