On heels of Super Bowl success, charter firm looks to expand

 - June 2, 2008, 7:24 AM

Swift Aviation Group first made headlines eight years ago, following an announcement by Embraer that the Phoenix-based charter operator, sales and maintenance provider had become the launch customer for the Legacy. Since then, the company remained largely out of the spotlight until this past January, when Swift’s private air terminal at Sky Harbor International Airport was named the official FBO of the Arizona Super Bowl Host Committee. That honor–combined with a new partnership and the launch of a new safety program–appears to have propelled the company back into the limelight.

Managing the increased traffic from the Super Bowl was “quite an undertaking,” according to Michael White, vice president of flight operations. He added, however, that the company was happy with the outcome. Corporate jet traffic at Sky Harbor increased more than 30 percent over the course of the weekend, he said, with Swift handling the majority. Of the 676 corporate jet landings, 455 were Swift customers, and the company sold 280,000 gallons of jet fuel.

Preparing for the event was the biggest challenge, White said. In the months leading to the Super Bowl, the company coordinated with local vendors and organizations to ensure that the FBO had enough resources to accommodate the high-profile visitors, worked with fuel suppliers to make sure the FBO had sufficient fuel and sought advice from FBOs that had supported past Super Bowls. Swift also recruited additional staff to accommodate the influx of visitors. “We usually work 24/7, but we don’t have enough overnight staff to handle 100 airplanes,” he said. “So we increased our staff. We had more maintenance personnel, and we had more employees on hand to greet customers in our lobby.”

The event was by all measures a success, White said, and it brought a lot of attention to the company. “We had a fairly busy first quarter, and it looks like we’re having an even busier second quarter.”

Building the Fleet

At least some of the new business can be attributed to Swift’s new partnership with CG Aviation Enterprises, a Gilbert, Ariz.-based consultancy firm. The two companies joined forces earlier this year to promote Swift’s services and increase the company’s managed fleet. To date Swift–which holds Part 135 and Part 121 certificates and manages an in-house maintenance shop–has 10 aircraft: two Citation Xs, one Citation S/II, three Legacys, three VIP-configured Boeing 737s and a Lockheed JetStar.

White declined to reveal specific details, but he said the company hopes to announce a number of new aircraft within the next few months. He did note, however, that in spite of its support of Embraer, Swift has no immediate plans to add Phenoms or VLJs of any sort to its fleet. “We’re looking for new opportunities, but we’re not in a position to jump into a niche market at this time,” he said.

CG Aviation partner Patrick Donaldson said his firm intends to market Swift’s services in the Southwest region of the U.S. “Swift isn’t a national firm like Sentient or NetJets, but in terms of regional participants, the capabilities are pretty robust,” he said. “From an operation standpoint Swift is underrepresented. One of the main goals we have is to build awareness of Swift, not only as an FBO but as a management company.”

In addition to expanding the company, Swift is hoping to improve its operations. Following the Super Bowl and the new partnership, the company launched a voluntary aviation safety action program (ASAP) in coordination with the FAA. The program was designed to prevent accidents and incidents and improve the company’s safety record through self-reporting and the creation of a safety committee.

The committee consists of representatives from the FAA and various members from each of Swift’s areas of operations, including flight operations, maintenance, dispatch and ground operations. White said Swift is one of only a handful of companies that require attendance from dispatchers and flight attendants, as well as flight crews and maintenance personnel.

The goal of the program is to provide safety training and to discuss areas of concern or perceived safety issues before they become problems. “Everything we do at Swift begins and ends with safety, and by participating in ASAP we now have a formal way to work with the FAA to proactively ensure we provide a safe environment for our customers,” said White. “It’s not only the right thing to do for our customers; it’s also a strategic business decision that we believe will set us apart from our competitors.” He added that the only way to reduce accidents is to identify the precursors. Using ASAP, Swift can now resolve issues through corrective action rather than reactive action, punishment or discipline, White said.