New Owner Emphasizes Service at Avantair

 - September 26, 2006, 11:46 AM

Avantair’s new owner, Alfred Rapetti, has clearly defined goals for the all-Avanti fractional provider. A retired investment banker with previous ties to aviation interests, Rapetti plans to further expand the company by offering “elite levels” of customer service, moving and expanding the corporate headquarters and steadily increasing the aircraft fleet.

When the new ownership was announced at the NBAA Convention in November, Rapetti said he was prepared to make a large investment in the Caldwell, N.J.-based fractional provider. One day after making these comments, he followed through on his pledge when Avantair placed an order for 36 Avanti IIs, a deal said to be worth more than $230 million. Under the agreement, deliveries will start in 2008 and continue through 2010.

“I want to take Avantair to the next level,” Rapetti told AIN. “We’re starting by ensuring that shareholders get the best service of any fractional provider. Every detail will be covered–from immaculate interiors to high-end, Italian-themed aircraft stock.”

CEO Steven Santo said Avantair has retained the renowned Elementary Etiquette Society of West Palm Beach, Fla., to help achieve this higher level of service. The firm will train and instruct Avantair’s staff in proper etiquette, protocol and customer service, and conduct third-party audits of the fractional provider’s service.

“We’re striving for people to expect the best service and get the best service,” Santo noted. “Many of the fractionals have lost focus on service,” he said.

Meanwhile, Avantair will be relocating its corporate headquarters from Essex County Airport in Caldwell to St. Petersburg-Clearwater Airport, Fla., by March. The company originally opened the Florida facility last summer as a Southeast maintenance and operations base.

Avantair’s new corporate location will have about 150,000 sq ft of office and hangar space when the move takes place. Further expansion is possible at St. Petersburg-Clearwater since Avantair has options on an adjoining 22-acre lot. The fractional provider’s Caldwell location will continue to be a full maintenance and operations facility, and Santo said there are plans to expand this complex despite the headquarters move.

Building a Managed Aircraft Fleet

At the NBAA Convention, Avantair said it would double its fleet of 20 Piaggio twin turboprops by next year. It is already well on its way to this goal, with 25 fractional Avantis on the property by the end of last month. Besides taking delivery of new Avantis, the fractional provider is getting into the managed aircraft business and already has eight managed aircraft in its fleet, bringing the current fleet total to 33.

The company has blended the managed aircraft into the fractional fleet to ensure that customers always fly on an Avanti, which Rapetti is adamant about. Further, in late October Avantair returned to Raytheon Aircraft the two Premier Is that it added last summer to augment its fractional fleet.

As an incentive for owners to place their Avantis under management with Avantair, the company signed an agreement that allows these clients to get discounted Jet Support Services maintenance plans. Managed customers can also take advantage of a national fuel contract with Jet Aviation.

Santo told AIN that he intends to expand the fractional program nationally. Avantair is eyeing Southern California and the Chicago region as likely places for additional operations and maintenance bases, he said.

“Avantair has experienced remarkable growth during the past two years,” concluded Santo. His future plans are even more aggressive, which could propel Avantair from a regional player to a national fractional provider within two years.