AirSprint Expanding Frax Operations into U.S. Market

 - February 2, 2012, 1:30 AM

Fractional share operator AirSprint Private Aviation has quietly but steadily been building its business in Canada for the past 12 years, and since last June it has been expanding into the Southwest U.S. Calgary-based AirSprint’s Canadian fleet consists of eight Cessna Citation XLSs and 13 Pilatus PC-12s. AirSprint has three PC-12s based in the U.S., at its Scottsdale, Ariz., office, and the company is planning to expand the U.S. fleet as word spreads that there is an alternative to jets or twin turboprops in the Southwest U.S.

AirSprint is a pure fractional provider that doesn’t offer jet cards or provide charter services. “We’re disciplined in our approach,” said Chris Richer, AirSprint president. “We’re less creative with regards to card programs that would put undue pressure on our fleet.”

AirSprint’s move into the U.S. market is focused around the PC-12 because, Richer said, “it makes a ton of strategic sense. We can be a first-mover, and we have tons of expertise operating that airplane. I look at the jet market as being a little congested in the U.S.; there’s a lot of competition, a lot of big players looking at how to do fractional profitably. There are some great companies in the U.S. that operate turboprops fractionally, but they haven’t indicated they are moving west. We have a lot of strength, our program operates profitably in Canada and we’re well positioned as the economy turns for the better.”

Competitors include Kansas City, Mo.-based Executive AirShare, which operates Embraer Phenoms and Beechcraft King Airs, and PlaneSense, a Portsmouth, N.H. operator that pioneered the PC-12 fractional market in the Eastern U.S.

There are no time limits on AirSprint fractional share contracts; owners can leave whenever they wish. However, AirSprint is the exclusive broker of the share when an owner exits the program, and the share must be sold to an incoming client, according to Richer. “There is no [buyback] guarantee; it’s subject to the market value.”

The U.S. market represents a “tremendous opportunity,” he said. “The market opportunity probably will allow us to expand in the U.S. We believe the opportunity is large. We just need to keep our eyes squarely focused on our clients. [Building] a fractional program is all about doing a great job for the clients.”

Richer doesn’t see AirSprint moving into jets in the U.S. “We have a great jet program in Canada, but it’s a crowded space in the U.S. I think that needs to flush itself out before we get into jets. We believe in the value proposition of the PC-12, and don’t believe there is a light jet that can do what the PC-12 can do. We sell the safety of the aircraft, and its track record speaks for itself. Range, capacity, landing and takeoff characteristics, there are so many things about the PC-12 that lend itself to this type of operation. We have six guys going on a hunting or golf trip or a family of six going on a ski trip, they show up in a full-size SUV packed to the roof, and we can load the whole family into the PC-12 and fulfill the mission.” AirSprint operates all PC-12 flights with two pilots, including deadhead legs.

As AirSprint expands in the U.S., plans call for adding 15 to 20 aircraft in the Southwest, including the San Francisco and Los Angeles areas. The company also plans to add aircraft in Denver. The launch in Scottsdale, Richer explained, “largely [has] to do with relationships we have with our Canadian clients. It’s a huge destination for the Canadian client base. As we’ve started to explore the market in Los Angeles and the [San Francisco] Bay Area, we see lots of opportunity.

“AirSprint isn’t well known in the U.S, but Richer aims to change that. “We’ve flown under the radar and have been a Canadian success story. Other fractionals have done a great job building in the U.S. The best way to grow is by referrals, focusing on clients, understanding what they want and having a relationship with them. We’re a humble company, inwardly focused, and believe that doing a great job serves us best in the long term.”