As a group, the four largest fractional operators reported pilot hiring activity significantly off from what it was a year ago, according to AIR Inc., the Atlanta firm that tracks the aviation job market. In the first nine months of this year, AIR Inc. said NetJets, Flight Options, CitationShares and Flexjet hired a total of just 148 pilots compared with 997 in the same period last year.
CitationShares, the fractional aircraft ownership venture between Cessna and TAG Aviation USA, claims to be the first fractional operator whose aircraft are all RVSM-compliant. CitationShares currently operates 34 CJ1s, Bravos and Excels for some 300 owners. The Greenwich, Conn.-based company also said all 140 of its pilots are RVSM-qualified.
When Richard Santulli sold three fractional shares in a business aircraft in 1986, people snickered. Ten years later, NetJets had sold 1,551 shares and Santulli was the one left laughing. Today, NetJets has company in the fractional-ownership industry, an industry that now represents 5,827 fractional shares. Even with the current economic slump, last year’s new share sales were up by 17 percent over the tally for 2001.
Sentient, launched four years ago as a business aviation charter broker, is now second only to fractional-ownership giant NetJets in the number of business jet flights flown annually, according to president and CEO Mark Stone.
Cessna recently delivered three Citation Bravos to The Company Jet, a fractional aircraft ownership startup based in Grand Rapids, Mich. Company Jet president Charles Cox said his operation is designed expressly for the business traveler. “Co-owners are organized within specific geographical areas to maximize airplane availability and minmize flying time.” The Company Jet is scheduled to take delivery of two more Bravos later this year.
In a move that appeared to bring Raytheon a step closer to concluding its intention to take control of the operations of fractional jet provider Flight Options, company chairman and CEO Kenn Ricci stepped down last month and was replaced by John Nahill, formerly v-p of corporate strategy and development at Raytheon Co. He was named chairman and CEO in a unanimous vote by the nine-member board.
According to research from AvData, Amstat and ARG/US, Cleveland, Ohio-based Flight Options had a share-owner increase of 20.5 percent (from 541 owners to 652 owners) between December 31 last year through June 30 this year, the largest percentage increase of four major fractional aircraft ownership providers (including NetJets, Flexjet and Travel Air). As of last June, Flight Options had a 16-percent share of the owner market.
What began as a concept that met with outright skepticism and indeed some hostility by the established aviation industry has blossomed into a viable branch of business and personal transportation that continues to fuel manufacturers’ production lines, gobbles up flight crews and, at least for now, staves off recessionary pressures by keeping order books fat.
In the first few days after the new FAR on fractional ownership hit the street last month, the aviation community was reacting with tempered optimism. While many praised the cooperative effort between the FAA and the Fractional Ownership Aviation Rulemaking Committee (FOARC) in creating the long-awaited final rule, they also reserved substantive comment until they had further time to analyze the result.
Of the few accidents that have occurred to fractional aircraft (none of them fatal), runway overruns are the most common. There were three such events since February (none resulting in serious injuries), including one in which a NetJets Citation 560 was destroyed in the overrun crash and subsequent fire May 2 at Real County Airport in Leakey, Texas. This was the first fractional jet totally destroyed in an accident.