Undoubtedly, it is still too early to gauge all the effects the September 11 terrorist attacks will have on any segment of aviation. But the signs are emerging that business aviation–with its added security element of direct pilot/passenger interaction, as well as its easy-on, easy-off access–will probably soar above current levels. As in years past, each new group of business aviation experts learns from what is occurring around them.
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.
Users of business-aircraft charter who prefer to purchase travel in advance now have another option that the service’s provider claims is different from other products. Under a program introduced early last month, global charter broker Air Partner is offering its new Jet Membership card program as an alternative to the group’s long-established classic charter operation.
Webster Bank’s Center Capital of Waterbury, Conn., has formed a general aviation finance division headquartered in Dallas. The new division’s target market initially is new and pre-owned helicopters and airplanes, as well as maintenance projects, valued at under $2 million. Charles McGuire, v-p and general manager of the division, told AIN that there are no restrictions with reference to aircraft age or noise stage.
Pilot hiring by the four major fractional aircraft ownership operators is far ahead of last year’s, according to figures compiled by AIR. The employment analyst reported that in the first eight months of this year, fractional operators hired 300 pilots, compared with 198 for all of last year. AIR reports that NetJets, FlightOptions, Flexjet and CitationShares employed 3,649 pilots as of August 31.
“Business has been very strong, but for all the wrong reasons,” said aircraft purchase broker Drew Callen, president of Boston JetSearch, which is based at Hanscom Field in Bedford, Mass. “There has been a surge of new inquiries for fractional shares and wholly owned business aircraft of all types. Also, many buyers who were on the fence have decided it’s time to take action.”
Executive Jet named Jim Christiansen vice president of national accounts for its NetJets fractional aircraft ownership program. For the peripatetic bizjet executive the appointment comes as something of a reunion–Christiansen served with Executive Jet back in the early 1980s when EJ was pioneering the concept of professional business jet management. Christiansen recently left TAG Aviation USA, where he was executive vice president and COO.
OurPlane of London, Ontario, Canada, which has been marketing fractional shares in piston airplanes since 1998, recently introduced fractional programs for the King Air C90B and Pilatus PC-12. The company announced it is teaming with FlightExec to expand the King Air and PC-12 programs in Canada. FlightExec is an aircraft management/charter firm also based in London, Ontario. OurPlane has 15 aircraft at eight locations in North America.
Business aviation continues to be a bright spot in the FAA’s annual aviation forecast, with top executives of two business jet manufacturers and the leading fractional ownership provider presenting generally upbeat assessments at the agency’s Aviation Forecast Conference in Washington, D.C., in late March.
It’s been 21 years since Richard Santulli opened the doors of NetJets, having figured out a way to lower the barriers to entry to business aviation by selling fractional shares in corporate jets. Now all sorts of industries that sell expensive products have latched onto fractional shares; the latest are companies that sell specialized manufacturing equipment to factories that need to switch production lines to new products quickly.