Real-estate developer builds charter op from the ground up

 - May 7, 2008, 10:53 AM

Going from real estate to on-demand business jet charter seems a bit of a stretch. But according to Green Air founder Steven Green, it makes perfect sense.

Real estate was where Green began in 1981. The timing was good. Things went well, and then they got better. By 1998 he was expanding his real-estate interests into Florida and making a round-trip weekly pilgrimage to several central and south Florida cities to keep an eye on things. In the end, a litany of long lines, late flights and lost luggage led him to begin using on-demand charter. But charter also was less than Green expected. He recalls boarding “too many airplanes where the cabins had become shabby with use, run by companies that had lost sight of the meaning of service.”

In early 2000 he decided that aircraft ownership was the answer and that a Citation II would do nicely. To maximize his investment, he put the airplane with Westair at Westchester County Airport, a 45-min drive north of New York City. Managed by Westair on its Part 135 certificate, the airplane was available for charter when not in use by Green. But that didn’t work out so well either. In a matter of months Green found himself giving up use of his own airplane in favor of charter clients, which, he said, “put me right back where I was before–standing in lines at airports.”

At that point Green decided that if there was that much demand for charter, the obvious move was not only to own his own airplane, but the entire charter operation. Late last year he took delivery of a second Citation II and both airplanes were sent to Canada, where Flying Colours at Peterborough, Ontario, did a cabin refurbishment to Green’s specifications.

According to Green, the interiors specialist created “the equivalent of a Bravo interior” in the older Citation IIs. Both were configured for six passengers in a club seating arrangement. And in one airplane, the aft seats were moved six inches closer to the bulkhead to provide additional leg room.

A third airplane, a Hawker 600, was acquired on September 26. The interior, said Green, had already been refurbished and is very similar to those in the Citations. A Hawker 700 due to be added to the Part 135 certificate sometime this month will go to Flying Colours for an interior refurb before entering service.

Green admitted that the 600, which does not meet Stage 3 noise requirements with the original Rolls-Royce Viper turbojets, may have some limitations in terms of airport restrictions. But he added that the recently refurbished interior “will more than meet the expectations of our passengers.”

Green said the company’s market is “business travelers and high-net-worth individuals in the New York City metropolitan area.” Among those already using Green Air are motion-picture director Penny Marshall and Sopranos star Lorraine Bracco.

A staff of nine, with Green as CEO, includes four pilots. Pilot Bob Tidler also wears a second hat as director of operations, and Charles DeSantis is chief pilot. The company is hiring two more pilots for the Hawker 600, and will hire an additional two before the Hawker 700 comes online.

Green Air received its Part 135 approval on June 25 and made its first flight the next day. It took a little longer to organize the launch party.

On September 26, in the 19th floor penthouse suite of the Essex House Hotel, overlooking New York’s Central Park, Green officially announced the opening of Green Air, which he described as “a professionally managed, privately owned ‘boutique’ charter airline.”

It is the boutique aspect of the company that Green says will distinguish Green Air from its competitors–personal touches like the client’s choice of catering. “Zabar’s, if that’s what they want,” said Green, referring to one of New York’s best known purveyors of fine food. Clients may also take advantage of limo service to and from the airport. “But not just any old limo service,” he pointed out. Green Air has its own drivers and its own vehicles; a Bentley in Florida and a Rolls-Royce Silver Seraph in New York. And the pilots, wear designer uniforms by Prada.

Green Air aircraft will be available to “a very limited number of other charter operators,” said Green. And he added that the company will not broker from another charter operator unless his staff has had an opportunity first to inspect the airplane.

“That’s the essence of Green Air,” he said. “We plan to serve discreet travelers with
more upscale service and treatment than the usual charter company.”