Jim Christiansen, 54, is leaving charter/management/fractional ownership provider TAG Aviation USA after managing its integration with Wayfarer Aviation over the last two years. The business aviation veteran, chairman of the Fractional Ownership Aviation Rulemaking Committee (FOARC) and former president of Wayfarer, was named executive v-p and COO of TAG Aviation USA when the merger was completed in late 1999.
Now that the integration is complete, Christiansen like a thoroughbred race horse, is champing at the bit for a new challenge to which he can apply his experience and expertise. He told AIN last month that his work is done at TAG Aviation USA and that he is looking for another challenging job, work “I can get my teeth into. My job was to integrate the two businesses. That’s done. It boils down to we don’t need two presidents [a reference to TAG Aviation USA CEO Jake Cartwright]. We’ve done the integration. I’ve finished it. I need another new challenge.”
Before joining Wayfarer as president in 1994, Christiansen was president of the former K-C Transportation Services, (K-C Aviation’s management and charter operation), based in Montvale, N.J. Before that, he was president of Executive Jet International, the parent company of Cleveland-based EJA and the NetJets fractional aircraft ownership program. His business aviation career also included stints as president of Jet Aviation Business Jets and 16 years as president of Executive Air Fleet, which was sold to Jet Aviation. Christiansen was also an air-taxi helicopter pilot after serving four years flying helicopters in the U.S. Army from 1965 to 1969.
“I think my choosing to leave is a healthy and natural part of the integration [of TAG and Wayfarer],” Christiansen told AIN. “There was an awful lot to do, but the fact it was done with such relative ease is testament to what a great group of professionals we have. Once that’s done and you get through that frenzy, you look around and say, ‘Now what do I want to do? What is there that’s fulfilling?’ I’m not a sit-back-and-go-with-the-flow guy. I like to get my teeth into something. I’m either blessed or cursed with a high energy level.”
Although the Northeast has been his home for most of his business aviation career, Christiansen spent the last year away from home for 200 days as he commuted between his office at the company’s base in White Plains, N.Y. and the company’s headquarters in San Francisco. “Our lifestyle supports that. I’m actually a resident of Texas.” Christiansen said he and his wife can “absolutely” relocate without a problem to wherever the job is. “The bottom line is that I’m looking for new challenges. The field is open. I will look at every option.” Full-time flying would be remote. He hasn’t actively flown since the mid-1970s. “And frankly, I haven’t had time.” But Christiansen wants to stay in aviation.
He is obviously an experienced integrator. The TAG/Wayfarer union was just the latest in a long career of overseeing mergers. In his words: “I think I may have more experience in integrating acquisitions than anyone. I have done six or seven of
them including EJA and United Air Fleet, Beckett and Executive Air Fleet and Executive Air Fleet and Executive Jet, as well as Wayfarer and TAG Aviation.”
When you think about the challenges, Christiansen said, “Look at the ones I took on when I went to Wayfarer. When I joined Wayfarer in 1994 we had four customers and six airplanes. When we sold it to TAG a little less than five years later, we had 42 aircraft, we had expanded our charter business 25-fold and we had 38 customers. We did the same thing at Executive Air Fleet. We raised the profits by a factor of 40 over five years.”
Christiansen is just four months into a one-year stint as chairman of the National Air Transportation Association and acting chairman of NATA’s new fractional aircraft business council. To remain chairman, he must be affiliated with a NATA member company. “I think the chairmanship [of NATA] is very important,” he said. “I want to maintain the chairmanship and any place I end up will either be an NATA member company, or I will make my own member company.”
The entire time that Christiansen was overseeing the merger of TAG/ Wayfarer, he was also ably chairing the FOARC, the group organized to draft rules to govern the operation of fractional aircraft. His time-consuming role in this endeavor recently earned Christiansen a special commendation from FAA Administrator Jane Garvey. The recommendations that came out of the FOARC effort were adopted generally intact by the FAA, and the agency issued them in July as a notice of proposed rulemaking with comments due October 18.
Until he finds a new position, Christiansen remains an employee of TAG Aviation, although his position has been filled by Chuck McLeran, formerly v-p of flight operations and support. During his transition period, Christiansen said, “I want to make sure that employees and customers are taken care of and are comfortable.
Being relieved from the day-to-day operating responsibilities allows me to do that and also to go out and look for a new job.” Christiansen told AIN that he could have stayed with TAG; the decision was entirely his option and choosing. But, as he said earlier, “My moving on to other opportunities is a natural progression of a healthy integration process.”