Sentient is finding its stride in membership block charter

 - October 12, 2007, 10:48 AM

Sentient, launched four years ago as a business aviation charter broker, is now second only to fractional-ownership giant NetJets in the number of business jet flights flown annually, according to president and CEO Mark Stone.

The company is one of a number of membership block-charter brokers that have emerged in recent years as “an alternative to fractional ownership and the more traditional on-demand charter.” It is an alternative that Stone believes fills an important niche that has been growing and will continue to grow.

While he declined to discuss specific numbers, Stone said Sentient has experienced near triple-digit growth annually since opening its doors in 1998 as eBizJets. And he added that the Dorwell, Mass.-based company is experiencing a 98.5-percent customer retention rate.

Sentient offers its clients a three-tier Private Jet Membership program, with silver, gold and platinum TravelCards valued at $100,000, $250,000 and $500,000, respectively. Cards are debited based on the hourly rate for the class of business jet selected– small, medium or large. There is no aircraft positioning charge. Cardholders may cancel their membership at any time without penalty and the remaining amount on the card is refunded “in full,” according to the company. There is no card expiration date, and the company awards frequent-flier miles based on distance traveled, as well as complimentary aircraft upgrades.

Hourly one-way rates range from $2,850 per hour ($1,850 per hour roundtrip) in a light jet to $6,450 per hour ($4,350 per hour roundtrip) in a large jet.

Sentient has more than 1,400 aircraft at its disposal from among its approved charter aircraft providers. Sentient coverage is global, though most of its trips are in North America and Europe.

“We draw assets from individually owned, corporate, charter and managed aircraft,” said Stone. He added that every aircraft is “certified” on a trip-by-trip basis. Aircraft, owners and pilots must meet the standards of the Aviation Research Group/U.S. (ARG/US) TripCheq program. Stone said the agreement with ARG/ US came a little less than three years ago, shortly after the launch of the TravelCard membership program, and that third-party safety audit agreements might be reached with other similar companies in the future.

Stone said Sentient clients are coming from three sources: corporations leaving full aircraft ownership or a fractional-ownership operation; wealthy individuals coming from fractional operations; and traditional on-demand charter.

Said Stone: “One of our customers is a flight department that owned five different fractional shares that were coming due, while others are second- and third-tier fractional owners who are terminating their contracts.

“What we’re offering them,” said Stone, “is the same convenience of travel in a business jet without the burden of commitment.”

As an incentive, Sentient recently began offering TravelCard gift certificates in increments from $10,000 to $50,000. “We’vealready had companies buying them as incentives for their top sales people and they’re looking for other ways to use the cards,” said Stone.

He sees the membership block-charter program as an important niche in business aviation travel, and expects it to grow as demand for business aircraft travel grows.