PlaneSense took delivery of the 1,200th PC-12 at its Portsmouth, N.H. headquarters last month during a ceremony hosted by company founder and CEO George Antoniadis. The aircraft is the 49th PC-12 acquired by PlaneSense since its founding in 1995 and launch in 1996. With retirements (typically after 6,500 hours of service) and replacements over the years, PlaneSense’s current fleet counts 30 of the turboprop singles, with an average age of five years (including the four core aircraft). The 1,200th PC-12 carries the same N number (N112AF) as PlaneSense’s first PC-12, which in September 1995 was the 20th built.
At a time when some are questioning the continued validity of the fractional business model, PlaneSense is doing just fine, thank you. The company now has close to 300 owners and aircraft usage in July was up by 20 percent on the number for July last year. The company’s PC-12s have made 200,000 flights since it began operations, making it the largest civilian operator of the type. “Our pilot roster fluctuates, but we target between 110 and 120, and the majority are captain rated,” he said. All flights have two pilots.
“We continue to differentiate ourselves through our focus on minute attention to service and providing what we believe is the most responsible and cost-effective solution for our owners’ travel requirements.”
Antoniadis has built into the program some features that likely raise the comfort level of those taking the plunge into fractional ownership. Shareholders can now renew five-year contracts without additional capital investment. At the end of year five, seven or 10, the company will assist owners in remarketing their shares. If a share doesn’t sell within a specified period for a specified residual value, PlaneSense will repurchase it. Instead of 90 flight hours per year for a one-eighth share, PlaneSense now provides a choice between 100 hours with no minimum hourly deduction per flight and 140 hours with a 1.4-hour minimum per flight. The hourly occupied rate has dropped to $736 from $751, and that rate now includes standard catering, as well as landing fees (except those at designated “high-cost airports”). As before, a 30-minute minimum applies and additional time is charged in six-minute increments.
One-sixteenth is the most popular fractional share. “Nobody owns a whole airplane, but we do have people who own in excess of 25 percent,” said Antoniadis.
As of February last year, Alpha Flying (the parent company of PlaneSense and still the AF in the fleet’s N numbers) was renamed PlaneSense to eliminate any confusion between company and product. “The company is still closely held. Part of that strategy is that we are here for the long run. We have our plan, of course, but we can also adjust it [swiftly] if we need to.
“We still describe ourselves as an Eastern U.S. program east of the Mississippi,” said Antoniadis, “but we also have a jog to the west so we can have most of Texas in the primary area. We also cover into Canada what is directly north of our U.S. territory, as well as the Bahamas.” Antoniadis noted, with clear pride, that PlaneSense relies on charter for less than 1 percent of its trip obligations to owners (“an order of magnitude less than the industry norm”) and has amassed an on-time departure performance of 99.5 percent (excluding factors beyond its control such as late passengers, weather and ATC delays) over the past two years.
The average passenger load is three, but “many flights go completely full with all six passenger seats occupied”–three short of the PC-12’s maximum certified seating capacity of nine.
PlaneSense has a yardstick of 2,500 feet as the minimum runway length it will use, “but we will evaluate requests for other lengths,” said Antoniadis. “We routinely go into Fisher’s Island [in Long Island Sound just off the coast of Connecticut, with two runways, 2,328 feet and 1,792 feet], and we also go into Cat Cay in the Bahamas,” which is 1,950 feet long but with water at each end has no obstacles. “There is also a list of airports we will serve only in daylight. Runway width for turnaround is another consideration. Because of the capabilities of the airplane, we sometimes get to go to challenging runways, but we want to be safe about it.”
When asked to describe his degree of interest in the upcoming Pilatus PC-24 utility jet for PlaneSense, Antoniadis was coy: “We are impressed by the performance envelope and the impressive cabin of the PC-24. Knowing Pilatus Aircraft intimately, we are much looking forward to the validation of the design targets.”