NBAA Convention News

Meridian toughing it out in tight charter market

 - October 14, 2009, 5:52 AM

The Meridian Companies at Teterboro Airport come to Orlando epitomizing the old saw that “when times get tough the tough get going.” The Meridian NBAA booth (No. 1890) showcases the four facets of the New Jersey airport business: Meridian Teterboro-FBO Services; Meridian Jet Center, an FAA Part 145 repair station and detailing service; Meridian Air Charter and Meridian Aircraft Management.

Andrew Ladouceur, Meridian Air Charter director of charter sales, told NBAA Convention News that Meridian is holding its own during the recession. “We were formerly a Million Air FBO,” he said. “When we decided to go independent three years ago, at the end of our agreement, we took on the responsibility for marketing of the company outside the support of the Million Air franchise. We’ve been very happy as an independent. We’ve got to work twice as hard to get the trips, but we’ve been able to keep the aircraft moving and keep everybody gainfully employed.

“We have had some workforce reductions,” Ladouceur added, “about five to 10 percent across all four business segments, but Meridian is and always has been a family-owned and operated company. The owner, Ken Forester, wants to take all steps to ensure that everyone has a job.” Forester, whose family founded and has operated the company continuously for the past 63 years, was recently named to
the National Air Transportation Association board of directors.

Ladouceur said the charter business has become more competitive over the past year. “We’ve had to reduce our prices to get the hours we’ve been flying, up 30 percent over the last half year. The flying is creeping back up but the margins are very tight. Obviously things dropped off significantly a year ago. I think that last year at NBAA time we were a little bit in denial. However, there’s been a slow but steady increase over the last five months.” In fact, he noted, of the 16 aircraft in the Meridian-managed fleet, five have been added in the past nine months.

Most of the managed fleet are available for charter work, with some remaining strictly Part 91. The newest additions to the Meridian fleet are a Bombardier Global 5000 and a Global Express, a Falcon 2000EX and 900EX, and a Challenger 601. “Charter pricing has become so competitive because a lot of operators have dropped their prices in an effort to hang on for their business lives,” Ladouceur said. “Brokers are able to find planes at lower prices, forcing operators like Meridian to compete on that level.

However, the bright side to the slumping aircraft market and overall economic downturn, he said, is that, “Both individuals and corporations have come to us with aircraft that have never been on charter before. So the poor economy has helped us to increase our fleet. We’ve been able to take advantage of the fact that people want to get revenue from their aircraft.”