New startups count on ‘anti-airline’ sentiment

 - May 19, 2008, 4:53 AM

Phil Garfinkle has nothing to fear but the lack of fear itself. Garfinkle founded Executive Private Aircraft Corporation (EPAC) to fan airline customers’ fears of traveling with unknown passengers, and their impatience and growing aversion to airport security checks. The EPAC mission is to provide “members with safe, convenient and value-oriented private air travel in a country-club environment.”

The startup Part 135 operator, based in Herndon, Va., plans to take flight in September, but possibly as early as July, with the first two of six deliveries of the Fairchild Dornier Envoy 3. The company has 12 more options over two years, although the outcome of the airframe manufacturer’s current bout with insolvency will decide these plans.

Garfinkle founded PictureVision in 1995, which he then sold to Eastman Kodak and America Online, pocketing $184 million and leaving AOL with “You’ve Got Pictures.” Because he has no aviation experience, Garfinkle hired Don Young to manage the startup.

Three Crews Per Aircraft

Young previously helped to launch Atlantic Coast Airlines and three other aviation operations, and is guiding EPAC through FAA approval, designing flight schedules and helping to oversee the development of maintenance and operations manuals. He said each Envoy 3 would need three flight crews to meet the 24/7 operation requirements of on-demand charter.

Various membership levels of EPAC will require a $25,000 to $250,000 initiation fee, spanning three private levels and three corporate levels, with passengers completing one-time exhaustive pre-screening. The core of EPAC is mutual assurance; anyone making contact with the aircraft inside or out will be scrutinized.

Members pay $600 for background investigation in addition to their initiation fee. With 72 hr notice and another $600, members can have guests qualified for a 90-day period. Before boarding, passengers would undergo retinal scans and fingerprint checks via portable equipment, and be subject to baggage search by EPAC employees.

Identification, Not Screening

“It will not be a screening per se, but identification,” said Young. “The background check will eliminate anyone who is questionable. Unlike the airlines, we are looking at the underlying character of the passengers and their associates, not their baggage.” Garfinkle told the Washington Post that applicants with passports from other countries, or those with a backgrounds difficult to search, may not qualify. “We don’t want to discriminate, but we want to provide a level of comfort,” he said. Most member-passengers will be drawn from wealthy communities surrounding Washington.

Maintenance, fueling and servicing will be performed by Aviation Resources, which is experienced in classified federal contracts, at EPAC’s Hagerstown, Md. base. Aircraft would be repositioned to Washington Dulles (IAD), Baltimore Washington (BWI) and eventually Ronald Reagan Washington National.

Passengers would be able to check EPAC’s schedule via its Web site ( to determine how many of the 12 seats are filled for a given destination. Depending on how many seats are filled on the flight, a one-way leg from IAD to Teterboro (N.J) Airport could cost anywhere from $264 to $3,168. The company initially plans to serve outlying Northeast airports, beginning with Teterboro and possibly Bedford, Mass., with limousine or helicopter connections to the city center.

Young said the EPAC’s market may include fractional owners or corporate flight departments that want supplemental lift, and charter customers who want a more exclusive experience. The company does not require a commitment to annual flight hours, and there is no monthly maintenance fee, only the initiation and background check fee, as well as flight leg costs. Young believes the Fairchild Dornier Envoy 3 can serve the Washington-to-New York route at lower hourly cost than a typical fractional-share arrangement. “We’ll need an alliance partner, a Part 135 operator, to meet the demand initially, and also for the longer legs that the Envoy 3 can’t serve.”

‘All Amenities Known to Man’

In what Young called the “founder’s round” of 15 investors, largely associates of Garfinkle from previous boards and ventures, EPAC has sufficient funds through the end of this month, and it hopes to have permanent funding in place before that runs out. At press time the company had about 25 passenger-members ranging from the entry-level $25,000 to more than $100,000 for a “silver level” membership, enabling that passenger to bring an unlimited number of guests, subject to background checks. The company is targeting 250 members by initial operations and predicts profitability by mid-2004.

Young said electronic and furnishing amenities in the 12-seat passenger cabin would include “just about everything known to man.” He added, “Fairchild will fit it for both high net-worth individuals and corporate travelers.” EPAC promises to offer comfort and luxury and a semi-private airport experience without “lines and embarrassing public searches.”