Human Organ Transport Aids NASCAR Driver's Charter Biz

 - October 12, 2020, 4:59 PM
MTJ Aviation operates a small fleet of Hawker 400XPs, although owner and NASCAR driver Martin Truex Jr. plans to transition to Cessna Citations. (Photo: MTJ Aviation)

The timing might not have been perfect, but for racecar driver and 2017 NASCAR Cup Series Champion Martin Truex Jr., owning and operating a charter company made more sense than being a charter passenger to travel to races.

Truex acquired a Hawker 400XP in 2014. After having his airplane managed by another company, he brought the airplane’s management into his holding company, MTJ Group of Companies. “Long story short, this is where it came to be the best option, was to do this all myself and hire the right people to run it and at the same time not spend the money I was spending,” Truex told AIN. “It was mostly I have control over everything and [I’m] paying for services I felt I could do better myself.”

Last year, he decided to get into the charter business and in June MTJ Aviation received its Part 135 certificate. “It just felt like when we looked across the board at what others were doing in the industry as far as NASCAR and what we were doing comparatively, it was kind of a no-brainer to take the model that we were using and try to spread it around there, get some other drivers involved...not only from a cost perspective but a safety perspective,” he said.

With three owned or leased Hawker 400XPs, a staff of 20 including pilots and a director of maintenance, the company focused on flying NASCAR drivers. That’s an area of business where Truex sees opportunity for further growth. “I think based on what we’ve been able to deliver the options are there for us to really grow this on the NASCAR side,” he added.

In addition to the NASCAR business, MTJ Aviation also sought business from corporate and leisure travelers. However, that business all but dried up when the Covid-19 pandemic hit earlier this year, prompting the company to pivot to a new line of business, flying human organs and the surgical teams that retrieve them.

That line of work came at the suggestion of one of MTJ’s pilots, whose previous employer had done that sort of thing for Transplant Coordinators of America (TCOA). “Not only is it very meaningful for us to be involved in that channel of business, but we really didn’t adjust our rates at all to service organ transports,” Todd Moore, president of MTJ Group of Companies, told AIN. “And what we’ve found is our rates are hypercompetitive in that space and [it’s] really allowed us to grow fairly quickly. I think it’s up to around 50 percent of our business now.”

Specifically, the organ transplant missions take MTJ Aviation up and down the East Coast and as far west as Texas. Moore estimates the company is flying three to five organ trips a week and he hopes to increase those numbers. “[Flying these organ missions] was a real blessing and it’s been a great experience,” added Truex.

TCOA president and CEO Steve Pitzer described MTJ Aviation as a “No. 1 class act operation” whose rates really are hypercompetitive. “We do use a lot of other different vendors, but since MTJ called I’ve pretty much been using them exclusively unless we have too many flights going at the same time,” Pitzer explained to AIN.

Longer-term, Truex and Moore would like to expand MTJ Aviation’s operations to include a fleet of between 25 and 30 business jets over the next three to four years, although that timeline might have to be extended because of the effects of the pandemic. Truex said the company is currently working with Textron Aviation to transition to Citations. Textron Aviation is among several companies Moore and Truex Jr. call “partners.” The others are Garmin Aviation, Sherwin-Williams Aerospace Coatings, and Noble Aerospace.

While MTJ Aviation’s growth plans might seem ambitious, Truex said he intends to keep that growth in check. “We don’t want to get away from why we started this and why it’s working for us now,” he said. “Strategically growing it and being able to deliver the things that got us where we’re at I think is important to understand and keep in mind.”