Delta AirElite, which has operated an aircraft management and charter service since 1991 when it was still Comair Jet Express, took a step toward further expansion last month with the announcement of its Delta AirElite Fleet Membership block-charter program.
Delta AirElite is not the first with a block-charter program, but appears to be the first to incorporate elements of this program with its Delta Air Lines parent company to provide what AirElite president and CEO Michael Green refers to as “a total travel solution.”
Delta Air Lines entered the business aviation market in January 2000 when it acquired Comair Jet Express from its Comair Holdings parent. In October 2001, the name was changed to Delta AirElite. It was described then as “enhancing Delta’s ability to provide an unmatched array of service operations to meet the air travel requirements of any traveler.”
Fleet Membership is a three-level program that allows the traveler to buy a silver, gold or platinum membership good for 25, 50 and 100 occupied flight hours, respectively, aboard aircraft in any one of three categories–light, midsize or large jets.
While buyers of a silver or gold card would normally limit their travel to a light or medium jet, respectively, a predetermined exchange ratio would allow the card holder to opt for travel on a larger aircraft.
There is also an “efficiency bonus” awarded for two-way trips. “If you buy 100 hours and use them in two-way travel, you could actually fly a total of 140 hours on a 100-hour platinum card.
Card holders may “reload” their card at any time and either remain at the same level or move up to a higher level of membership.
There is an annual price adjustment, for which the card holder will be debited. On the other hand, there is no long-term commitment and no expiration date on the number of unused hours.
Fleet Membership also brings with it points that may be exchanged for single- or multiple-membership Delta Air Lines Medallion status. For example, the purchaser of a Gold Fleet Membership earns six points. These may be exchanged for two Delta Air Lines Platinum Medallion cards valued at three points each, or any other combination totaling six points. And the cards may be transferred to another individual of the member’s choice, including family or friends.
Members may “cash out” any remaining hours but are subject to a penalty of 10 percent of the value of the unused hours. Unused hours may be converted without penalty to Delta Dollars good for travel on Delta Air Lines.
Delta AirElite benefits directly from its association with the parent company by sending and returning crew replacements on Delta Air Lines scheduled service. “We also have an advantage in terms of fuel prices and pilot training through our association with Delta Air Lines, and we can move parts and people to meet any contingency,” said Green.
“All of it helps keep Delta AirElite customers in the Delta family,” said Green. And, he admitted, it might also entice some Delta Air Lines frequent fliers to take advantage of what Delta AirElite has to offer.
He noted that while Delta AirElite uses a number of third-party auditing firms to determine whether affiliate charter providers meet the minimum requirements in terms of safety, they are also audited by a Delta AirElite team. And he added, “We do not give blanket approval. There are aircraft and pilots we may not approve to fly under the Delta AirElite flag, and there are some airports that we would not approve for night operations.”
The Fleet Membership desk is open 24/7/365, and can book on Delta Air Lines and the Delta Connection regional carriers. “They can manage the entire travel experience,” said Green. The same office also runs Delta AirElite’s on-demand charter and aircraft management dispatch and scheduling.
A week before the official launch of the program on February 18, Green said that Delta AirElite had already fielded more than 300 inquiries. Among those inquiries, he added, were a substantial number from fractional share owners. “Most had a good experience in fractionals and have come to depend on the convenience of business aviation travel, but now they see it as an expensive option to scheduled airline service.”
Green said Delta AirElite looked at this particular business model for block charter for the better part of a year, and added, “We never had any intention of getting into the fractional business.” Fleet Membership, he explained, “…allowed us to enter that third alternative without a major outlay of capital.”
Delta AirElite is headquartered at Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport, where it also operates an FBO.